PORTLAND — The city is in the midst of looking at vacant land it owns all over the city and seeing if it would be appropriate to sell or lease it for housing development, but the City Council stopped short Monday of marketing two parking lots near Reiche Elementary School for that purpose.
Earlier this year, the council’s Housing Committee recommended the council look into disposing of a 8,460-square-foot parcel at 157 Brackett St. that could accommodate upwards of 19 housing units and a 7,313-square-foot parcel at 176 Clark St. that could accommodate 10 units of housing. Last month, however, the council’s Economic Development Committee recommended the full council not move forward with disposing of the property.
The two lots are used as parking for staff and visitors at Reiche School, as well as parking for nearby businesses, emergency snow parking in the winter and off-street parking on evenings and weekend.
Renee Bourgoine-Serio, a teacher leader at Reiche, said she doesn’t see a benefit to the city getting rid of the property. Parking in that area is already a problem, something that would only become more of an issue without the lots, she said.
“The lots are critical for our staff at Reiche to park,” said Emily Figdor, who represents the district where Reiche is located on the Portland Board of Education. “If you can’t park, you can’t get to your job and fulfill your job. We don’t have any other option (for staff parking).”
Councilor Tae Chong, who along with fellow Economic Development Committee members Nick Mavodones, Justin Costa and Spencer Thibodeau, councilor Belinda Ray and Mayor Kate Snyder voted against disposing of the land, said the parking crunch is going to get even worse when the old Mercy Hospital building a block away gets redeveloped into housing.
Jill Duson, chairman of the Housing Committee, said while she understands the competing needs, using the land solely for parking “is not the highest and best use of the land.”
Councilor Kimberly Cook, a member of the Housing Committee, said by recommending the city look into disposing of the property, the committee was not necessarily saying the land had to be sold outright or that parking could not be part of the development on those sites.
“It’s not a matter of whether we want parking or housing. I hope we can find a way to do both. I hope we can find a way forward with this where they are not mutually exclusive,” said Cook, who along with Duson and councilor Pious Ali voted to move forward with marketing the properties to determine their potential for housing.
Leveraging city-owned property for possible housing has been listed as a goal in Portland’s Plan 2030, the city’s comprehensive plan.
Ray said she was having a difficult time getting rid of land that the school department has said they need.
“That’s hard for me to reconcile,” Ray said, suggesting the city could look to market the air rights so the ground level could still be used for parking but the upper levels for housing.
Thibodeau said although “he is all for coming up with creative ways to look for housing,” he couldn’t support marketing the Brackett Street parking lot for housing because a 2015 housing project that fizzled out proved putting housing there is difficult.