Developer proposes 7-story apartment building on Washington Avenue

June 11—A Portland developer has plans to add more than 300 apartments — including 80 workforce housing units — in the city’s East End, but needs a zoning change to allow for the seven-story building.

Jonathan Culley, managing partner of Redfern Properties, said the 180,000-square-foot project at 165 Washington Ave. would be one of the largest in the city and would help meet the “massive need” for workforce housing.

The project, located at the former Northern Burner Supply site, would include 324 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments above a few small retail spaces. Of the 324 units, 80 would be deed-restricted for “workforce housing,” meaning they’re affordable for people making below 80% of the area’s median income.

The rest would be priced for people making 80% to 100% of the area’s median income.

According to the city, the area median income is $68,500 for a single person and $78,250 for two people. Rents for the workforce units would start at or below $1,721 a month and the market-rate units would start around $2,231.

Culley said the intent is for the apartments to be the lowest market-rate offerings in the city and that while only 80 are designated workforce units, he wants them to be affordable for the influx of graduate students attending the University of New England and the Roux Institute.

“These are not 240 luxury units,” he said.

The building would provide a needed infusion of apartments as the city battles an ongoing and worsening housing crisis, but as planned, its 75-foot height would exceed the neighborhood’s four-story, or 45-foot, limit.

Redfern is seeking a zoning amendment to allow the additional 30 feet. Culley is confident that the request will be well-received because it’s the same zoning change proposed in the city’s ReCode, an ongoing project to update the city’s zoning regulations.

Culley said he’s watching the ReCode process closely, but is asking for the zoning amendment now because he’s on a tight timeline for the building and it’s unclear how long the ReCode will take. He hopes to break ground on the Washington Avenue project in the first quarter of 2025 and anticipates a two-year construction timeline.

Although he’s confident about receiving the city’s support, some residents have balked at the proposed zoning changes.

At a recent open house to discuss the ReCode, sections of Washington Avenue were singled out for concerns that the area would be too densely packed, that the buildings would be too tall and that there could be a negative impact on parking.

An op-ed in the Portland Press Herald last month stated that “a proposed zoning change on Washington Avenue stands to take beloved 180-degree (park) views away from residents and visitors alike.”

Culley is undeterred.


“The benefits to the people who will live here far outweigh the impacts to the people who already live here,” he said, adding that the southeastern wing of the building would be shortened to four stories to maintain views for Munjoy Hill neighbors.

“This is a former industrial site on a major transit corridor that is well-suited to larger-scale development. The city is always changing to address society’s needs, and we only begin to solve our housing and climate crises when we prioritize dense, walkable housing over some static view of our city’s character.”

The apartments would be small — 300-700 square feet — which Culley said helps keep the cost down.

The 300-plus unit building would feature just 20-30 parking spaces, which he said is intentional, given the “walkable neighborhood on a transit corridor.”

“Our goal is to accommodate people, not cars,” he said.

He envisions a deli, cafe or market in the retail spaces on the ground floor but said retail can be challenging. He hopes the project will essentially stretch Washington Avenue toward Interstate 295, helping to create more demand.

A planning board meeting to discuss the proposed zoning amendment has not been scheduled.

Two of Redfern’s other large-scale projects are moving along. The Nightingale, 260 apartments in the former Northern Light Mercy Hospital building, is almost filled, Culley said, and the Casco, the 18-story, roughly 260-unit building on Federal Street touted as the tallest building in Maine, is about two- thirds full.

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