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Portland Developer Wants the Old Port to Grow Up

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

By Jordan Bailey, Portland Phoenix

"The tallest building in the state could be built in Portland’s Old Port if city councilors approve a proposal to allow developers to build beyond height limits if they create public spaces at ground level.

Tim Soley of East Brown Cow Management, which owns 14 properties in the city, submitted the zoning amendment request Dec. 11, 2019, that would award height bonuses resulting in buildings of up to 299 feet in exchange for open space that would be accessible to the public and preserved through public access easements held by the city.

The tallest building in the state is listed in a 2018 Business Insider article as Agora Grand Event Center in Lewiston, formerly St. Patrick’s Church, whose spire reaches 220 feet. Not including buildings with spires, the tallest building in the state is Franklin Towers on Cumberland Avenue, at 175 feet.

Soley’s request applies to portions of the B3 zone that currently allow building heights up to 125 feet. The area that would be affected encompasses the blocks on the southeast side of Spring Street between High and Union streets, except for a strip along Fore Street, as well as a portion of the block bound by Union, Middle, Exchange and Fore streets, which Soley owns.

The property Soley would like to develop under the proposed rule is the parking lot at the heart of that block, behind Key Bank, Novare Res and the Fore Street parking garage.

Under current zoning regulations in that area, developers may build out to 100 percent of the lot, but Soley said this would not allow for pedestrian connectivity.

“The site is better served by a taller, slender building and a new plaza,” he said in a prepared statement, “which we envision as an inviting oasis within the Old Port featuring new seating, planting, artwork and lighting.”

Soley has expressed a desire to build a 20-plus-story building in the area of Canal Plaza in the past, and the zoning amendment request includes a graphic of a 23-story, 287-foot-tall building to illustrate how the amount of open space would be affected.

His proposed zoning change would reduce the maximum floor area ratio, or total floor area divided by lot size, from 7.5 to 5.75 while increasing the maximum allowable height to 299 feet. For a 20,000 square foot lot, such a building would have three times the open space as one built to the current regulations."


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