Upheaval over the state’s plan to move the Maine Department of Health and Human Services out of downtown Portland continued Tuesday as the deadline for a court appeal of the proposed relocation moved closer.
Homeless advocates gathered Tuesday morning at the current DHHS building on Marginal Way in Portland to protest the state’s decision to move the agency’s Cumberland County offices to a proposed 82,600-square-foot building in South Portland near the Portland International Jetport.
Meanwhile, Tom Toye, a developer whose competing lease proposal was rejected by the state, said Tuesday that he plans to file a lawsuit challenging the selection of the South Portland proposal by Friday. That’s the 30-day deadline for Toye to take court action after his initial appeal was denied by the Maine Department of Administration and Financial Services.
A lawsuit would likely delay the South Portland proposal, offered by ELC Management Inc. of Portland, which already faces a tight timeline to win several government permits and construct a three-story office building by Jan. 31, 2015, when DHHS must vacate 161 Marginal Way.
Toye disputes the scoring process used to judge four lease proposals that were submitted in response to the state’s advertised request. He claims the process was unfair because his proposal was the least expensive and more in line with lease specifications.
“Our location score was the lowest and I can’t swallow that,” Toye said. “It seems wrong the way they scored this thing, and the guy who made the decision on scoring is the same guy who made the decision on my appeal.”
Toye’s $30 million proposal for a 15-year lease offered space in two buildings on Lancaster Street in Portland, near the current DHHS location. Toye said his proposal should have scored higher because it would keep DHHS in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood and close to other social service agencies, which was one of the state’s scoring criteria.
Instead, Toye’s proposal scored lowest on location, receiving 6.5 of 20 possible points. The highest location score went to ELC Management’s $34 million proposal for a 15-year lease, which got 18 points for its site on Jetport Boulevard, next to the Hilton Garden Inn. A $39 million proposal for a 15-year lease in the Brickhill area of South Portland, near the Long Creek Youth Development Center, got a location score of 14 points; and a $52 million proposal for a 20-year lease on St. John Street in Portland got a location score of 12 points.
DHHS’s location is a major concern for low-income advocacy groups, such as Preble Street Homeless Voices for Justice, which organized the protest on Tuesday morning. About 25 people displayed signs and joined hands in the freezing sunshine, chanting, “DHHS don’t go to SoPo,” and singing holiday-themed songs such as “O DHS, O DHS, we need you to stay local.”
“A lot of people who access these services get here by foot,” said Jim Devine, one of the protesters. “The trip to South Portland is long, even by bus. It seems like an intentional effort to make services less accessible.”
Also at the protest was Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, who said he’s been talking with state officials, trying to persuade them to consider numerous other available sites in the city.
“There are a host of issues with the South Portland site,” Brennan said, including the fact that the developers need an easement to connect an access road to Jetport Boulevard, which is owned by the airport and the city of Portland.
State officials have until Jan. 31 to act on an option to renew the lease at 161 Marginal Way, which would come with a rent increase. They plan to consolidate DHHS with the Maine Department of Labor’s offices, which also are now in the Bayside neighborhood.
The state had set a Dec. 15 deadline to complete negotiations with ELC Management, which is led by Eric L. Cianchette and Kenneth J. Cianchette. Negotiations continue and state officials have been advised by the Maine Attorney General’s Office to avoid comment while Toye’s right to appeal is in effect, said Jennifer Smith, spokeswoman for the Department of Administration and Financial Services.
ELC Management’s proposal needs permits from the South Portland Planning Board and Maine Department of Environmental Protection, among other agencies. No formal plans have been submitted for public review. The Cianchettes haven’t responded to numerous calls for comment.
If Tom Toye has his way, the South Portland proposal won’t make it off the drawing board.
“I sincerely hope we can at least correct the selection process and put the request for proposals out properly,” Toye said. “I don’t see how DHHS wouldn’t stay in Portland if the process was done correctly.”
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: