A Proposed 7-Story Apartment Building Stirs Debate Over Zoning in Portland

Portland’s housing scene is in the spotlight with a proposal from Redfern Properties for a 320-unit apartment complex on Washington Avenue. While the project aims to incorporate 80 units of workforce housing, its seven-story height necessitates a zoning adjustment, igniting discussions within the community.

Under the direction of Jonathan Culley, Redfern Properties is set to develop the 180,000-square-foot structure at 165 Washington Ave., repurposing the former Northern Burner Supply site. Culley stresses the project’s role in addressing the city’s pressing need for workforce housing.

The complex will feature a mix of 324 studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments, complemented by retail spaces. Eighty of these units will be earmarked as “workforce housing,” catering to individuals earning below 80% of the area’s median income, while the rest will cater to those earning between 80% to 100% of the median income.

With the area median income standing at $68,500 for a single person and $78,250 for two people, rents for workforce units will be priced at or below $1,721 per month, providing a more affordable option compared to market-rate units priced around $2,231.

Culley’s vision is to make these apartments some of the most accessible in the city, specifically targeting graduate students from the University of New England and the Roux Institute.

While the project addresses the city’s housing crisis, its proposed height exceeds current zoning limits for the neighborhood. Redfern is seeking a zoning amendment to allow an additional 30 feet, drawing on the ongoing ReCode project as precedent for such changes.

Culley closely monitors the ReCode process but emphasizes the urgency of his project’s timeline. He aims to commence construction in the first quarter of 2025, with a projected completion within two years.

However, concerns have been voiced by some residents regarding the proposed changes, particularly relating to density, building height, and parking. Culley remains resolute, highlighting the benefits of dense, walkable housing over preserving static views.

The project is aligned with Portland’s transit-oriented development objectives, prioritizing resident accommodation over vehicle-centric design. Culley envisions ground-floor retail spaces to enrich the neighborhood’s liveliness and connectivity.

While a planning board meeting to discuss the zoning amendment is pending, Redfern’s other ventures, such as the Nightingale and the Casco, continue to advance, shaping Portland’s urban landscape in the process.

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