The Portsmouth City Council heard plenty of input last Monday on current plans to redevelop the McIntyre Federal Building site.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that deserves a better plan. While city officials point to the early public input process that helped begin the potential redevelopment, feedback at Monday’s public hearing is just as valid. Most who spoke did not like the proposal.
If city officials believe the public doesn’t have enough information to understand the plan, they must provide it. City Councilor Chris Dwyer believes the city needs to do another presentation.
The City Council should not submit a proposal to the National Park Service to acquire the McIntyre property for free through the Historic Monument Program until a more concrete plan is presented that has strong support from residents. That support is crucial as residents will own the land on which the development is situated. Despite the public plazas and community gathering space, this is a private development on publicly owned land.
Should city officials provide more information on the plan and residents still don’t like it, they must accept their plan does not have support and make real changes.
Resistance to the plans of the city and its private partner Redgate/Kane did not just happen because Michael Simchik created a website promoting a less intense redevelopment. It’s been building throughout the process and can be traced back to the early public input process.
In phase 2 of the public input process last March, a group of residents weighed in on certain aspects of the plan.
They were asked to vote on whether they favored traditional architecture, modern or both. A large majority favored a mix. That can be said to be accomplished in the current plan. They were not asked if three (originally four) new buildings and near complete coverage of the 2.1-acre site with impervious surfaces was what they wanted.
Residents were asked to pick their most important public benefits and amenities. Choices included a public food market, indoor/outdoor gathering space, services attractive to Portsmouth residents, such as a pharmacy and keeping the post office open, workforce housing, access to rooftop and elevated views, surplus revenue going to the city, creative transit options and public parking.
Residents picked an indoor/outdoor gathering space and attractive services as their top options. The services are in doubt, particularly retaining the post office, and the hardscaped public plazas have drawn criticism.
Residents were not asked if they preferred 77 luxury apartments over workforce housing. They were not asked if a ground floor community space was preferred to an upper floor with views of the harbor. Dwyer, in discussing the March input session last year, noted people previously cited the importance of having public access to the McIntyre, which is slated to be office space, for its commanding views.
Residents were asked about their preferences for on-site parking. They supported underground and reduced parking in exchange for intermodal alternatives. Redgate/Kane is proposing just 77 spaces for 77 apartments, of undetermined size, along with the retail, office and public space uses. The site’s current underground garage has 44 parking spaces.
There has been no talk of intermodal alternatives and walking to Foundry Place is unlikely what residents had in mind. Also, City Manager John Bohenko last month said the new garage would be at capacity in 18 to 24 months.
Concerns about parking have come from many residents as well as elected and appointed officials.
“It has been one of the things that has raised my eyebrows all the way along,” Assistant Mayor Cliff Lazenby said Tuesday.
Planning Board Chairman Dexter Legg and Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth Moreau both expressed concerns with the lack of on-site parking at the board’s December meeting. “I do worry about the parking a lot, a lot,” Legg said.
Everyone agrees this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s time for city officials to direct developers to present a plan that respects that. The current plan is not even close, but there is time to get it right.