Yard South developers cite traffic as a major challenge

The Yard South site in South Portland, center, with Bug Light Park to the left. Contributed / PK Realty Management

During its eight meetings with community members over the past year, the developers of a proposed mixed-use project at the former Liberty shipyard in South Portland have identified a major concern: the impact of the traffic project.

“We know traffic in general will be a big issue for this site,” David Packard of developer PK Realty Management told The Forecaster. “That’s one of the reasons we’re studying it, using past studies, ongoing studies and there will be future studies.”

The 30-acre Yard South project would be built on the site adjacent to Bug Light Park, approximately half a mile from Southern Maine Community College with the intersection of Breakwater Drive and Broadway located in between. Planning is still in its early stages, with few concrete details presented at a city council workshop on Tuesday.

The Yard South website. Contribution / City of South Portland

In general, the goal of developers is to create an environmentally sustainable “community and destination” to “live, work, play and shop”. It would include “housing for people of different ages, incomes and backgrounds and incorporate arts and culture”, host waterfront events and be pedestrian and cyclist friendly.

“We’ve been on this project for three years,” Jennifer Packard, president of PK Realty Management, told the board. “We’ve had the luxury of taking our time on this project because we have existing tenants on the site, which means we can take our time and be very deliberate and thoughtful.”

One goal, she said, is to push vehicular traffic to the Madison Street side of the site rather than through Ferry Village.

Councilwoman Katherine Lewis was also worried about traffic.

“As a resident who lives on Broadway, it’s very clear the differences in vehicular traffic when the SMCC is in session versus not in session,” she said at the workshop. She encouraged developers to consider college traffic as they move forward.

Other challenges cited by developers include nearby oil reservoirs, the Portland pipeline that runs through the site, and the implementation of affordable, market-priced housing.

Developers also face a zoning hurdle. South Portland planning director Milan Nevajda said the current zoning of the Yard South site does not allow for residential use. This zoning, however, does not fit into the city’s overall plan, he said.

“The overall plan identifies this Yard South project site as a mixed-use growth area, and it specifically calls it the Shipyard Development District,” Nevajda said.

David Packard said he would like to see Yard South provide a better connection between the Greenbelt and Bug Light Park.

“What we immediately noticed about the property is that there is the old Pickett Street extension,” he told The Forecaster. “It connects at the right corner where the Greenbelt comes out on Madison Street, and that connection from Greenbelt to Bug Light Park is just a little messy.”

“It’s a great opportunity to bring people in and through the site and connect the neighborhood and ourselves to Bug Light because it’s such a great amenity,” Packard said.

The developers have partnered with OnePlanet Living, a UK-based sustainability consultancy.

“If everyone lived like a European, we would need the resources of three worlds,” Packard said. “If everyone lived like a North American, we would need the resources of five worlds.”

Developers’ work with OnePlanet focuses on “how we manage and reduce our impact so that we’re only using the resources we should be,” he said.

He also said it helps to “provide a system of accountability” for the project to remain environmentally friendly as it develops, which the developers particularly emphasized due to the site’s proximity to the ocean shore.

The developers and board should hold future workshops as the project progresses.

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