A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bayside land sale passes; project will move on to the Planning Board

Last night, the City Council passed the agreement to sell City-owned land in Bayside to MaineHealth and United Way, which will build a 6-level parking garage and 8-story office building on part of the site, and possibly build two more buildings on the western end of the block at some later date.

Unfortunately, the Council opted to pass the agreement as worded, instead of amending the agreement to include specific reforms aimed at ending Socialized Parking in the neighborhood. Since government-mandated parking prices and time limits are now enshrined in the developers' agreement, it's going to be more difficult for the City to do it right. But it's still possible: the project still needs site plan approval from the city's planning board, and hopefully the city will have a good parking ordinance in place before then.

A commenter asked about the impact of this project on the proposed Bayside Trail, which is also a possible future route for a streetcar or light rail line through downtown Portland. The developers were required to preserve a right-of-way through the property for the trail, and it will be routed behind these buildings:

A big issue at last night's public meeting was the developer's compromise proposal to preserve trail access from Somerset Street. In order to shoehorn the parking garage in on this site, access will be via a 20 foot by 20 foot tunnel between the garage and the office building. Councilor Dave Marshall and others showed some concern that a tunnel wouldn't feel as welcoming, or as safe, as an alley open to the sky. A legitimate concern, and the final design will have to take great pains to make sure this access tunnel doesn't become a urine-soaked disaster.

On the whole, though, I'm glad this is moving forward, although there are definitely aspects of the proposal that will need to be improved in the rest of the planning process. In fact, the sale of this property gives the City and the Trust for Public Land the money to go ahead with developing and landscaping the trail - so hopefully we'll finally see some action after many years of planning.

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