HDC to take second look at Portsmouth Bookstore project

PORTSMOUTH ? A proposal to tear down a portion of the former Portsmouth Book Shop building and redevelop the property to a mixed-se commercial and residential development could be headed back to the Historic District Commission for a third review.

Developer Steve Kelm seeks to redevelop the property at 7 Islington St. The Harbour Lights building on Bridge Street and a single family home on Tanner Street would be demolished as part of the project to construct a mix of commercial and residential space.

The Board of Adjustment last week voted 5-2 to send the project back to the commission. HDC approval is required for the project to move forward. Applicants who are denied HDC approval can appeal to the city's Board of Adjustment.

The HDC reviews all designs within the city's historic district to ensure they conform with surrounding architecture.

Paul McEachern, attorney for the developer, said the commission committed a legal error when it evaluated the impact of the proposal on the adjacent Tanner Street neighborhood ? which lies outside the historic district.

The developer's architect Steve McHenry also stated the commission's concerns came up very late in the process. The commission had already held five work sessions on the project before making its concerns known to the applicant.

McEachern's other issues were that Vice Chairman David Adams should have recused himself from the vote during the rehearing, saying Adams had already publicly stated he would not change his mind on the matter. Also, McEachern said the commission failed to act on the application within 45 days of it being submitted and did not adequately state reasons for denying approval.

"In my reading of the record, they just didn't plain follow the statute," he said. "They don't have a choice as to whether or not they're going to follow the statutes."

Some abutters restated their opposition to the proposal. Martin Burns of 280 Hanover St. said the back of the proposed building that faces Bridge Street is unattractive. "What you're going to see is a large brick wall," he said. Commission members also testified. Adams pointed out that the city's ordinance says the commission has to be concerned about the "special character" of an area around a project and does not state specifically that it has to lie in the historic district.

HDC Chairman John Rice spoke about how the commission had an "epiphany" about how big the building was going to be when it did a site walk on Tanner Street. "You have a gentle little neighborhood that we hadn't seen until the night of the site walk," he said.

Although the Board of Adjustment could have upheld the commission's decision or overturned it, it decided to send it back for another review. Board member Arthur Parrott said he believes both parties raised significant issues as to whether Tanner Street can be considered and agreed the commission had vaguely hinted at concerns without addressing them before the vote to deny. He made a motion requiring both parties to hold another work session by a mutual agreement followed by another public hearing.

"My basic feeling is it's worth another shot and avoiding court," he said.

Board member David Witham said he believed the parties were at an impasse. "I think we're just sending it back to its deathbed," he said.

Parrott, Duncan MacCallum, Alain Jousse, Carol Eaton and Chairman Charles LeBlanc voted to send the matter back to the commission. Henry Sanders and Witham voted in opposition.

McEachern said he is not sure when the matter would come before the commission.
Historic panel under scrutiny for philosophy


Steve McHenry is the project architect for the 7 Islington Street Project in Portsmouth. The project will restore the front of this historic building, and demolish the rear wing, seen here, which was added after the original building's construction.

By Emily Aronson

PORTSMOUTH -- Critics have called them the "taste police" and some people think they are close-minded and wield too much power.

In response, historic district commissioners say they're trying to preserve what makes Portsmouth special and are simply following the guidelines set by city ordinance.

The Historic District Commission was established to "review and approve significant architectural changes" to commercial and residential properties in the district, which encompasses downtown and parts of nearby neighborhoods. But the HDC has become a controversial body, given that design standards can be subjective, the growth of downtown, and that New Englanders are known for being passionate about their history.

Some architects and homeowners have also had problems with the review process itself, saying there can be mixed messages about what the HDC likes and doesn't like about a design.

There are also those who feel "new blood" would shake things up and create a commission that's more open to change.

"There is no apparent effort on the board to add depth to its collective knowledge beyond a narrow range of architectural styles," Steve McHenry wrote in a letter copied to the Herald.

McHenry is the principal architect on a proposed renovation and addition of 7 Islington St., former home of the Portsmouth Bookshop. The letter was to his client, developer Steve Kelm, after the HDC denied the project in September. It was denied a second time at a rehearing this month.

McHenry and team members Brandon Holben and Sean Schmigle, along with consultant Jen Ramsey of Somma, held five work sessions with the HDC to come up with a design they thought suited their client and the commission.

McHenry successfully worked with the HDC on previous projects, but said his experience with the 7 Islington St. project brought home problems he's had with the commission.

The HDC was troubled by the scale and massing of the addition onto the bookshop building, and also felt it did not match the smaller houses on nearby Tanner Street.

McHenry said problems with the size of the building were brought up at the last minute, and his client also argued the HDC should not consider Tanner Street in its review because it's not in the historic district.

"We do not doubt (the HDC's) importance to the city in attempting to maintain high standards of design in the district," he wrote. "However, it is becoming apparent in their actions that some long-standing members can intimidate others with less experience into making rash judgments."

McHenry said there's a chance Kelm might appeal the commission's ruling in court.

HDC Chairman John Rice said he felt badly about how the 7 Islington St. project turned out, and believes it could be used as a learning experience.

"It's opened a lot of interesting dialogue," Rice said. "I think they've raised the debate about, ?Can you have contemporary architecture in the district?' The HDC has struggled with that."

Modern Portsmouth?

Local architects who came to an HDC forum last year thought the historic district could incorporate contemporary architecture.

So have architects who brought projects to the board more recently, including Shannon Alther of TMS Architects. He and John Merkle, principal of TMS, worked with the HDC on the renovation of the Martingale apartment building on Bow Street.

Alther said they had hoped to do something different with the Martingale, but the HDC was resistant. Alther said he found Vice Chairman Dave Adams very knowledgeable, but the most inflexible when it came to new styles.

In the end, the parties agreed to maintain the traditional brick look on the front facade facing Bow Street, but added large, corner windows on the rear side facing the Piscataqua River.

"Unfortunately, architects (who) present in front of HDC don't want to fight, so they just give them what the commission likes," Alther said. "It would be nice to walk around a corner downtown and see something exciting and different."

Alther said preserving the historic character of a city is important, but he also likes juxtaposing older styles with modern design, such as glass, metal and bold colors.

Many New England cities, Portsmouth included, have the mentality that "as long as it's dipped in brick, it's great," Alther said.

"A lot of people are renovating (historic buildings). You can try to keep the look similar, but I think there needs to be an opportunity to add new elements," he said, citing the 18th century Trinity Church and the John Hancock Tower in Boston as an example.

Alther, however, is not of like mind with most people on the HDC.

"I'm not sure we need variety. The interest is in the lack of variety," Rice said. "That's the whole reason behind historic districting -- people want to reconnect with their past, they want that sense of place."

"If you sort of mixed it up, what kind of place would it be?" he said.

Rice said he understands why some people see the HDC as strict and dogmatic, but said "it's all in the spirit in doing a job well."

Possible changes

Alther said he found Commissioner Richard Katz to be the most open to change with the Martingale project. Katz was also the only person to vote for the 7 Islington St. project at the September public hearing.

Katz himself admits he's in the minority, saying, "Sometimes it's a little bit frustrating, but by the same token, at least (my) side is heard."

When it comes to the "heart of the historic district," Katz said he has a "very conservative, by the book" interpretation of what buildings are appropriate there. But he said as you head out of downtown, the historic integrity of buildings has not been as well maintained, and therefore he's more open-minded about using different styles.

Katz's style guidelines could be the basis for new zoning ordinances the Planning Board is evaluating. The city is redrafting its zoning rules, and consultants have suggested removing areas, such as the northern tier, from the historic district because old buildings there were demolished years ago.

Consultants suggested creating different design-review districts for neighborhoods like the northern tier and Islington Street to create their own character and aesthetic.

Assistant City Manager Cindy Hayden, however, stressed there have only been preliminary discussions about this idea.

As for getting "new blood" on the HDC, Rice and Katz also serve on the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee on Appointments, which is looking at adopting term limits for various city boards.

However, Rice notes, there's not a "line of people snaking around City Hall" who want to serve on the HDC.

Despite the criticism, Katz said he's seen positive changes on the HDC recently. He said commissioners are trying to have better dialogue with applicants during work sessions and be clearer in what they'd like to see in a project.

"My attitude toward the HDC right now is probably the most positive during my eight years on it. I really think that we've turned a corner here," Katz said.
Another hotel planned for downtown Portsmouth

Portsmouth Bureau Chief

PORTSMOUTH ? Still another hotel could be coming to the Port City's downtown.

Developer Steve Kelm has submitted an application to tear down a vacant building at 68 State St. and replace it with a small, intown hotel.

Kelm said the plans are still very preliminary so he did not have an exact number of rooms or what type of franchise it will be. The building would be four or five stories depending on the location and stretches from State Street to Court Street.

"We haven't gotten that far. That's the next step in the process," he said. "We haven't designed it yet internally."

The existing building is located next to The Rosa Restaurant and formerly housed a carpentry shop and space for Strawbery Banke Museum. Last July, Kelm bought the structure for about $1,150,000.

Kelm is also developing a mixed-use building at 58 State St. with retail on the first floor and residential units on the upper floors.

He said he was attracted to that end of State Street because it is an undeveloped section of the city and is near the water.

"I think it's going to be one of the nicer parts of town," he said.

He said the 58 State St. project should be completed in about 10 months. He anticipated the hotel would be an 18-month project and is targeting tourists and business clients.

Plans submitted for the project at City Hall show a mostly brick structure. There is an open interior court in the middle of the property.

The Historic District Commission will review the design and hold a public hearing on the project on April 4 at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers.

Kelm also owns property at 7 Islington St. and is seeking to turn the former Portsmouth Book Shop building into a mixed-used project.

The city is currently in the process of approving plans for a 204-room Westin Hotel downtown as well as a 147-room hotel at the site of the Parade Mall.
'Portwalk' to embrace pedestrian friendly uses

PORTSMOUTH ? "Portwalk," a pedestrian-friendly, integrated mixed-use development will soon replace the Parade Mall in the city's North End.

Cathartes Private Investments, the Boston-based real estate investment and development company revitalizing the Hanover Street property, recently announced the name and unveiled its visual brand image to be used on all signage and marketing materials.

Portwalk will feature boutique shops, cafes and restaurants, residences, office space, and an extended-stay hotel.

The Planning Board approved the $100 million project in July and Cathartes expects to begin construction in mid-2008. Construction should take 18 to 22 months and be completed by fall 2009.

Cathartes is also the developer behind the Hilton Garden Inn and the Harbour Hill Condominiums.

Jeff Johnston, principal of Cathartes Private Investments, said the heart of the project will be the main Broadwalk, which will have wide brick sidewalks with trees, flowers, outdoor cafe seating and storefront access to each shop and restaurant.

The development will also create a new private roadway that would go down the middle of the property in the approximate location of the Vaughan Mall on Hanover Street

"By redeveloping the outdated Parade Mall and transforming it into a quality, pedestrian-friendly, visually appealing site, this project will serve as a draw for businesses, residents and tourists alike," City Manager John Bohenko said in a press release.

Portwalk will include four buildings of mixed uses over a 350-car underground parking garage. Each building will offer retail on the ground floor, accommodating a total of 15-20 shops, cafes and restaurants.

An extended stay hotel offering 128 rooms will be developed over retail shops in Building 2 along Deer Street.

:lol: YAY! Now only if the other stuff can get off the ground the northern tier will be kickin ass
I can't wait for the some pictures!

If the 'parade mall' is the block that I am thinking of, then this (or almost anything besides what is there right now) sounds like it will work great there.
Portsmouth traffic circle plan 'too dense'
City raises concern over 120-room hotel

By Adam Leech
December 06, 2007 6:00 AM
PORTSMOUTH ? City planners said the developer for the Meadowbrook Inn revitalization project is trying to squeeze too much on the 18-acre parcel and may have to scale it back.

"It's too dense," Public Works engineer Dave Desfosses told the development team for the project at Tuesday's Technical Advisory Committee meeting. "There's just too much here."

Similar comments were repeated throughout the meeting for the project, which seeks TAC's recommendation before going to the Planning Board. The project has been in the works over a year, dealing mostly with wetlands issues related to impact on nearby Hodgson Brook.

The project, which has been scaled down since the initial plan, now calls for a 120-room, five-story hotel, 25,000 square feet of retail space and three restaurants. The developer, Anthony DiLorenzo of Key Auto Group, plans to demolish the current structures.

Among TAC concerns are tractor-trailer movements, a lack of loading berths, traffic flow on Route 1 and the traffic circle, as well as the effect on city sewer and water systems. Members also expressed concern about the impact the project would have on nearby residential areas and pedestrian traffic.

While the developer's attorney, Malcolm McNeill, said the "goal is to work out the issues," the number of buildings on the site are not something planners are willing to budge on at this time. Zoning laws do allow the number of proposed structures.

"We're there to deal with site review issues like maneuverability of the property and drainage, all of which we will appropriately respond to," said McNeill. "In terms of the number of buildings, there's no variances required and no violations of zoning. ... If there was, they would be sending us to the Zoning Board."

One of the fears of planners is the effect the increased Route 1 traffic could have on the traffic circle, and the intersecting streets of Coakley Road and Cottage Street. City planning director David Holden said the Department of Transportation will need to be part of the discussion.

Planning Board Vice Chairman Jerry Hejtmanek said traffic safety will be a major issue the board will want to address. He said density was an issue for the board and Conservation Commission when the conditional-use permit was approved in September, and may be more of an issue during site review.

"We had lots of problems granting the conditional use because the density was so high," he said. "It might still be too dense. ... We'll want to look at all the details."

The project will go in front of TAC again Jan. 2.
I got some pictures at long last. Looks pretty good. I wish they where bigger. Breaks ground this spring/summer I think





Portwalk gets kudos for: 'going green'

Article Date: Friday, January 11, 2008


The much-anticipated Portwalk project will be the first "green" mixed-use development in the Port City and developers expect a silver rating from the United States Green Building Council for it being an environmentally responsible project.

Representatives from Cathartes Private Investments, the Boston-based real estate company behind the project, announced on Thursday that Portwalk will be the first "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" certified multiuse development in the city.

According to a news release from Cathartes, "LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building project is environmentally responsible and profitable, as well as a healthy place to live and work."

The LEED Green Building Rating System is a nationally accepted benchmark developed by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council for the design, construction and operation of high-performance "green" buildings.

In order to achieve the certification, builders must follow five key aspects of sustainable design and construction including site selection and development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

Josh Anderson, senior project manager for Cathartes, said that in addition to those five categories, developers must also adhere to a series of conditions set forth under each key aspect.

"Going green today has a lot of advantages, not only to the community, but to tenants, to the developers and immediate neighbors," said Anderson.

A prime example of Portwalk's environmentally sustainable design is the development's underground parking garage, which happens to be a first of its kind in the state.

Other environmental strategies expected to be involved in the project include white roofing to reduce "heat island effect," deploying water efficient landscaping and promoting alternative transportation.

The project has been deemed by many as being "environmentally smart growth" since its inception and has received the backing of all City Council members.

City Councilor Ned Raynolds is thrilled by the announcement and called it "a wonderful post holiday gift for everyone in Portsmouth."

"Portwalk's commitment to achieve LEED Silver certification raises the bar for other commercial and municipal projects in Portsmouth and throughout the state. I promise to do everything I can to ensure that the city and local utilities work closely with the developers to make it a model for others to follow," said Raynolds.

Raynolds also serves as the Northeast Climate Policy Coordinator for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a national nonprofit organization based in Cambridge, Mass.

Cathartes recently received approvals on the architectural design and site plan for Portwalk and expects to break ground sometime in 2008.
Very very attractive. Portsmouth is really a beautiful low-rise city. I kinda wish they would build a couple of these nice buildings, except a little taller to improve the skyline.
This is a great project for Portsmouth. The Parade Mall is 1960's, urban renewal at it's worst. My only wish is that it was a little taller. Portsmouth and it's ridiculous ordinance that nothing can be taller than the chruch steeple.
the height limit just got dropped again... or at least they were trying, from 60 to 50 ft I think before that they would let 70 slide I beleave.

Prison anyone? Shipyard seeks proposals for 'The Castle'


Article Date: Thursday, February 28, 2008

KITTERY, Maine ? Hoping to find a candidate to pick up where local developer Joseph Sawtelle left off, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard officials will once again pursue leasing out the former Portsmouth Naval Prison.

Sawtelle's untimely death in May of 2000 halted development of the prison into the Seavey Island Technology Center ? a multimillion-dollar office space ? and since then, the 100-year-old, 265,000-square-foot structure has remained empty.

But sheets of plywood that board up the prison's windows may soon come down if the facility, which was closed in 1974, is leased to a private or public entity and developed into a usable structure. And developing it is the U.S. Navy's goal.

The process, called the Enhanced Use Lease Program, is a collaboration between the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the Navy's Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) division.

The process will begin this spring, when the shipyard sends out invitations to potential developers for an industry forum that will be held on April 16, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the New England Center in Durham.

Selecting a developer will take place during the summer, and shipyard officials estimate lease negotiations with the developer will begin in the fall and last until winter. They project a potential signing date sometime in spring of 2009.

Deputy Commander for Base Operations Support David Kelly said the Enhanced Use Lease Program is a "competitive process."

"It's an open and fair process, where you have a two-stage process, where the most qualified party would be selected," said Kelly. "And the second phase of the process is where any final terms would be determined."

Kelly said whatever use is determined for the facility, it has to be "consistent with the primary mission of the shipyard," which is the repair and modernization of Navy nuclear subs. The proposals would be reviewed and compared with a lengthy list of criteria, Kelly noted.

"We will only entertain possible uses for the site that are compatible with our primary mission. The industry forum will be an opportunity for interested parties, interested developers, to ask questions ? that sort of thing."

Following the forum, a "team" of officials from both the shipyard and NAVFAC will review the proposals.

Shipyard officials aren't elaborating on the structure's potential uses, or what they don't want the facility to be, but one stipulation of the lease program is that the former prison cannot be demolished.

There have been no preliminary discussions with outside entities, according to shipyard officials.

Once called the Portsmouth Naval Disciplinary Command, the former prison was constructed in multiple phases, the first one completed in 1908, according to Gary Hildreth, public affairs officer for the shipyard.

The former Navy prison was one of two major disciplinary facilities from the time of its construction until the end of World War II. The other major facility was at Mare Island, Calif.

"During its lifetime, the total number of prisoners that spent time at the former Naval prison was over 82,000," said Hildreth in an e-mail. "With modifications made to the former Naval prison throughout its lifetime, the total capacity was always changing."

Inside the prison, which was most active during the two world wars, are cell blocks and administrative offices. Today, the building is kept boarded up for safety purposes, Hildreth said.

Sawtelle, a New Castle native who had great success developing residential and commercial centers out of abandoned mills in Portsmouth, Dover and other Granite State towns, had signed a 10-year lease in 1999 between his company, the Seavey Island LLC, and the Naval Sea Systems Command to develop the former prison into office space for the technology industry. It would have brought in a projected 1,000 new jobs to the Seacoast area.

His death, followed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the economic downturn in the high-tech industry, killed the proposal, however, and no other developers have come forward with other proposals that complement the Navy's goals and security needs.

The Seavey Island LLC continued efforts to develop the prison after Sawtelle's death, but those faltered in 2001 and eventually fell apart altogether.

The agreement between the Navy and Seavey Island LLC in 1999 was the first-of-its-kind lease between a private sector company and a Navy installation.

The former prison was built to resemble the medieval strongholds of Europe, and was once referred to as "The Castle" due to is architectural style.

"The former Naval prison may be best described as a variety of the Gothic Revival style typically associated with mid-century Romanticism popular in state prison construction during the early to mid-19th century," said Hildreth.

At least two local communities have an interest in the development of the prison because of the effect in may have on commerce and/or traffic in the area.

Kittery Town Council Chair Jeff Thomson said developing the former prison is likely beyond the town's means, but Kittery would like to be involved in the development process.

"Clearly the cost to reclaim that prison property is going to be substantial and, I think, beyond the financial means of this community," said Thomson. "I think anything that happens, they are talking access via Gate 2, so town roads would be impacted."

The Town Council chair said residents living on Shapleigh and Whipple roads would be impacted and thus the town should have a part in the development process.

"That would be my goal, to make sure Kittery is represented about any discussion about possible reuse," Thomson said.

In Portsmouth, Deputy City Manager Cindy Hayden said the city has an interest in development of the facility because of the "positive influence" it could have on the business sectors of surrounding communities, in particular, Portsmouth.

"We're always interested in what our neighboring towns are doing," said Hayden.
No, its on the Naval base which is located on an island- the only way on and off which is with miliarty ID.

But other then that- yes.
So how would that have worked with it as a private office development?
They want to develop it as use "consistent with the primary mission of the shipyard." So I'm guessing any workers based their would get the clearance needed to get on base.
This will wall-out Bow street alone this side, and improve the water front/sklyline view.

Abutters to Bow Street project lose appeal


Article Date: Tuesday, March 11, 2008
PORTSMOUTH ? Abutters to the proposed Martingale Wharf project on Bow Street have lost their appeal to the state Supreme Court regarding the redevelopment project after a nearly two-year legal battle.

Attorney Malcolm McNeil told Foster's on Monday that the entity called Harborsquare, which owns property at 90 Bow St., filed a lawsuit challenging the Historic District Commission's approval of the project nearly two years ago because of concerns the projects would negatively impact the view and character of the neighborhood.

McNeil said he entered into oral arguments on behalf of the city last Thursday and the decision was handed down the next day.

"A next day decision is extremely unusual," said McNeil

Harborsquare, who was represented by Attorney Steven Feld, claimed the approval granted by the HDC for the redevelopment project had an adverse affect on its neighbors.

The developer, RRJ Properties, can now look to construct a seven-story addition to the left side of the existing apartment building at 99 Bow St. and a six-story addition to the right.

Plans for the project include the elimination of the existing residential uses and replacement by at least two restaurants, retail shops and office space.

"It basically said that Harborsquare never showed it was affected or aggrieved in any way to bring an appeal," said McNeil.

The Planning Board approved the project in April of 2006, but Harborsquare, which also owns property at 99 Bow St., had filed a lawsuit seeking to block the development from going forward.

In April, Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Robert Morrill dismissed the lawsuit because Harborsquare did not first appeal the commission's decision to the Board of Adjustment, which is a required step, in a timely fashion.

The matter was then ultimately transferred to the Supreme Court level.

Harborsquare had also filed a lawsuit in Superior Court which challenged the Planning Board's approval of the project and according to McNeil that lawsuit was also unsuccessful.

"Now they're ready to go," said McNeil.