The Bayside neighborhood in Portland, where developers are proposing a seven-building, 10-year plan to add 800 apartment units. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

When the developers seeking to bring more than 800 apartments to Portland’s Bayside neighborhood look at the span of seven city blocks they plan to build on, they see a lot of untapped potential.

A surface-level parking lot will become a 200-unit affordable housing building. An adjacent corner will be a 10-story 85-unit apartment building. A nearby parking garage will be revitalized with the addition of ground-level retail.

And Lancaster Street, currently dotted with one- and two-story buildings and parking lots will be transformed into a walkable “woonerf” – a pedestrian-friendly “living street” that could be closed to traffic for festivals and farmers markets.

“The goal is to add to the existing community and create a vibrant mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood,” said John Laliberte, a co-developer for Tom Watson & Co., which has proposed a major redevelopment spanning from Kennebec Street to Cumberland Avenue and from Preble Street to Chestnut Street.

The project is still largely conceptual and hasn’t received any city approval. But it has the potential to bring big changes to Bayside, a neighborhood that has traditionally been a social services hub and home to the city’s Oxford Street Shelter.

The area has already seen a dramatic change since the shelter closed last month because the city opened the new Homeless Services Center in Riverton.


“It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds,” said Sarah Michniewicz, president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association. She said neighbors recognize the city’s desperate need for housing, though there are also many questions about green space, parking and the scale of the proposal.

Sarah Michniewicz, president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, says the neighborhood supports the idea of more housing on the peninsula but has concerns about green space and traffic and clustering all the affordable apartments in one building. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“Hopefully it happens in a way that’s livable, in conjunction with and incorporating the existing social services that are here,” Michniewicz said. “That’s what I’ve always imagined and wanted, for there to be a balance of uses in the neighborhood.”


Bayside is roughly 100 acres bounded by Marginal Way, Franklin Street, Cumberland Avenue and Forest Avenue. It sits between Interstate 295 and downtown, making it a gateway to the city.

During a recent walk-through of the neighborhood, Laliberte and co-developer Michael Barton said the proximity to downtown and transportation options, as well as the industrial and underutilized nature of the properties at the center of the neighborhood all made it attractive for new development.

Michael Barton, a co-developer with Tom Watson & Co., stands in an area where developers are planning to create a pedestrian walkway between the new Armature apartment building and existing businesses, Banded Brewing Co. and Wilson County Barbecue. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“You have transit. You have access to open space with Deering Oaks and the Bayside Trail nearby,” Barton said. “You can live, work and enjoy the amenities and enjoy what the city has historically been and what it can be.”


The developers already have a footprint in the area. Port Property, the management arm of Tom Watson & Co., is headquartered at 82 Hanover St. And just up the road at 52 Hanover St., the company is building a 171-unit high-end apartment building, called The Armature, that is expected to open this summer. The project will include 19 workforce units available to people earning up to 100% of the area median income.

This parking lot at the corner of Elm and Lancaster streets is where Port Properties is proposing to build a 200-unit affordable-rate apartment building. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The new proposal – currently being considered in a master development plan before the planning board – calls for seven new buildings along Lancaster and Elm streets, to include 804 residential units, 201 of which will be affordable units, 29,000 square feet of commercial space and two open spaces – a “linear park” or woonerf and a 6,000-square-foot public green space.

A master development plan is an optional planning tool that can be used to outline large, multi-phase projects prior to more-detailed site plan reviews. The Bayside plan is the largest one currently before the city, though if approved, each phase would also require subsequent site plan approvals.


The former Oxford Street Shelter, which is owned by a subsidiary of Tom Watson & Co., isn’t part of the new project, though Laliberte and Barton said the company is thinking about what to do with it now that the shelter has moved out.

The building, a former apartment complex and auto garage, could be demolished and replaced with affordable housing one day, they said. But for the next four months, it will be used by the city’s fire department to conduct trainings.


A sign posted on fencing that surrounds the courtyard at the former Oxford Street Shelter declares the street an emphasis area. The Bayside neighborhood, where developers want to build 800 apartment units, has already seen change since the shelter closed last month. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Some residents said they have noticed less activity in the neighborhood since the shelter moved out, though the area is still home to a significant homeless population living in tents along the Bayside Trail.

The encampment is a sign that even with a new, larger shelter open, the needs of the neighborhood and the community at large are high, said Ben Strick, senior director of adult behavioral health for Spurwink Services, whose adult behavioral health offices are located in the project footprint at 60 and 62 Elm Street. He said Port Property has been a good landlord and is honoring their lease.

“I think there was an idea that maybe the shelter would close and move and we wouldn’t see the struggles we’re seeing, but I think what we’ve seen through the pandemic and continue to see is that those struggles have grown and this neighborhood continues to have people with a lot of needs,” Strick said.

At Preble Street, a nearby social services provider that runs a 40-bed shelter on Portland Street, Vice President of Social Work Andrew Bove said he’s definitely noticed a change in the neighborhood since the Oxford Street Shelter closed, though he also noted that a lot of the foot traffic has moved to the trail.

Tents line the Bayside Trail on Thursday. The city has put plans to remove the camps on hold. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“I’m hoping Port Property will work with people in the neighborhood, residents and providers,” Bove said. “There are still a lot of (social services) providers in the neighborhood. Preble Street is one of them. We want to be a part of how this neighborhood changes.”

Bove said he likes that affordable housing is included in the proposed plans, but the affordable units will be available to people earning up to 60% of the area median income – and that’s still too high for most people who come to Preble Street for help.


And he doesn’t like that all of the affordable housing will be in one building.


That’s a frequent concern of residents and stakeholders who would rather see Port Properties integrate the 201 affordable housing units across the seven residential buildings.

At the same time, many also recognize the city has a dire need for new housing.

“I think this neighborhood is an outlier in that we’re ready for and actively want housing,” said Michniewicz, from the neighborhood association. “In so many other areas you hear, ‘Housing is a great idea. But not here.'”

The affordable housing building, planned for 89 Elm St., is in the first phase of the project. The developers said they received funding from MaineHousing via a one-time federal subsidy for the project as they’ve pitched it, and that their intent was not to segregate the affordable units.


“I can understand some of the resistance and ‘Hey, you’re going to stick this affordable housing off in the corner and segregate it,’ but the whole intent of the master plan is to create an integrated and cohesive neighborhood, and this building is one of the buildings that will do that,” Laliberte said. “If you look at the architecture and the way we’re integrating it in the plan, it’s no different than the other buildings in the plan.”

John Laliberte is a co-developer with Tom Watson & Co., the Port Property-associated business that is proposing a seven-building development plan in the Bayside neighborhood over 10 years that would add 800 apartment units in the heart of the Portland peninsula. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Because the project is so large, Michniewicz said it needs to be done with care. “We want to make sure the buildings and infrastructure and the mood of the neighborhood are something that will sustain us,” she said. “It’s ‘Welcome,’ but also, ‘We want to see it done right.'”

At a planning board workshop this week, Robert Sylvain, a member of the neighborhood association, said he is concerned about some of the building heights. “Extreme height is a major driver of a lot of collateral damage for the neighborhood,” he said. “I’m a big believer in density, but in some cases, we’re talking about hyper-density.”

Others have expressed concerns about green space and the future of the Bayside Community Garden on Chestnut Street. And there are worries about traffic and parking.

Stacy Begin, the owner of Two Fat Cats Bakery, says she has mixed feelings about a development plan in Bayside. Her business is in the footprint of the project, but she says the developers plan to honor her lease. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


Stacy Begin, who owns Two Fat Cats Bakery at 195 Lancaster St., said she has mixed feelings about the plans. Her business is located within the footprint of a later phase of the project that calls for the addition of a five-story building with 55 apartments.


Begin said Port Property has said they will honor her lease, which extends for another six years with an option to renew for five years, though she’s also started to think about the long-term future of her business.

“I can’t deny I’m worried about what the next step will be for us,” Begin said. She said she understands the need for housing but also would be sad to see the building she’s in eventually demolished. “My hope is the goals of the master development plan and goals of the bakery will align and we can stay in the neighborhood,” Begin said.

Barton and Laliberte said they are working on addressing the issues raised by residents and want to work with existing tenants. Updated plans that were sent to the board this week include a 6,000-square-foot public green space at 163 Lancaster St. And they said they’re working on an agreement to keep the community garden in place for at least five years.

Developers plan to turn this parking lot in front of the Spurwink Crisis Center on Elm Street into a 10-story apartment building as part of a 10-year plan to add 800 apartment units in Bayside. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“We heard the neighborhood loud and clear,” Laliberte said. “It was one of their first questions, ‘What will happen to the garden?’ We understand the value they see in it and we see the value, too, in that type of open, communal area.”

Some residents have also raised concerns about the impacts that traffic from the building could have on Cedar Street, which is narrow and residential, and a spokesperson for the developers said there will be opportunities for public input during the site plan review process and as the planning board considers a required traffic management plan.

Construction on 89 Elm St. could start as early as next spring if all goes according to plan, and Barton said they hope to have other site plans submitted as the first phase gets underway. “The goal is to have a one-two or a one-two-three delivery all around the same time over the next few years,” he said.

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