Maine may soon have a new tallest building -- at least if you exclude a few decorative spires and features.
A new project called 200 Federal proposes redeveloping the site of a parking lot and small brick plaza at the corner of Temple Street and Federal Street in Portland's Old Port into an 18-story apartment high-rise.
If built as planned, the structure would become Maine's tallest high-rise because it would surpass Franklin Towers, the state's and Portland's tallest high-rise.
"A lot of people are asking about the height of this building and the superlatives, but it's never been about that for us," said Jonathan Culley, the owner of Redfern Properties and the developer of 200 Federal.
Culley said his company was approached by the current owner of the lot about the opportunity to take over the site, which he describes as located in "Portland's most walkable neighborhood," making it appealing for housing.
He explained that requesting a zoning change to build a structure with occupied housing units as high as is now proposed became necessary after costs of the project were analyzed and it was found that it would not be economical to build shorter.
"Going to 18 stories is the way we meet the viable threshold,"" said Culley. "This is not affordable housing, this is not luxury housing, this is squarely in the middle."
After hearing from a few members of the public for and against the project, at least one of whom questioned a height exception for 200 Federal, the Portland City Council unanimously approved a zoning change Monday that would allow that height to be achieved.
Another historic district and zoning approval are required, as well as a discussion with the Federal Aviation Administration, before construction on the 190-foot multi-million dollar, 263-unit project begins.
Culley says he's "comfortable" in expecting air traffic concerns not to halt 200 Federal.
Of the 263 units, Cully said they will be priced at $1,300 to $2,000 per month and there will be "27 units permanently restricted at area median income."
Portland had required projects like 200 Federal with more than 10 housing units to set aside 10% of those units at an affordable rate tied to median income.
However, in November, that percentage increased after a ballot question decision made by Portland voters on Election Day.
According to Culley, 200 Federal is exempt from that requirement because "applications were submitted well before the November referendum."
As for existing water and power infrastructure, the developer will pay the City of Portland and utility companies impact fees so that they can meet the needs of the new structure.
"I think it could definitely help, knowing there could be some more housing here," said Brian Sullivan, who works near the proposed building site, adding that if it does contain some affordable units, it will help with Portland's housing crisis, which he described as "a big problem here."
Culley believes that 200 Federal will address that problem directly through its affordable units and that it will ease competition for existing apartments from people moving to Portland because of a newfound ability to work remotely and a desire to leave more crowded, expensive cities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That is a real problem.
"Affordability, particularly in the rental market, has continued to worsen," said Denise Lord, senior director of planning and communications for MaineHousing, during an interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston this past February.
"There are more people coming with well-paying jobs looking for housing in Portland," said Culley. "If we don't build new housing for people with well-paying jobs, they're going to be competing for the existing housing stock, and they'll be competing against people with lower-paying jobs, and people with lower-paying jobs are going to struggle in that competitive market."
A note from the author of this piece, Dustin Wlodkowski: "In the interest of transparency and unbeknownst to me prior — while I was reporting on this story, I discovered I happen to live in a building owned by Redfern Properties that is completely unrelated to the 200 Federal project."