A Portland landlord filed a lawsuit Friday challenging the state’s controversial decision to move the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Portland offices to a proposed building in South Portland near the Portland International Jetport.
The lawsuit could delay the South Portland proposal, submitted 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 in Portland.
Tom Toye, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, offered a competing proposal for existing office space on nearby Lancaster Street in Portland. He’s asking the Cumberland County Superior Court to reverse the decision and force the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services to reconsider his proposal.
Toye disputes the scoring process used to assess four lease proposals that were submitted in response to the state’s advertised request. He claims that the state’s selection in October of the South Portland proposal was unfair and arbitrary because his proposal was the least expensive and more in line with lease specifications.
“We’re trying to get the court to get us into a real appeal process,” Toye said Friday. “It feels like we got short-changed. … If we can bring out the faulty nature of the whole process, maybe the state will change the way it handles these things.”
Friday was the final day of a 30-day time frame in which Toye could take court action; his initial appeal was denied on Nov. 21 by the Bureau of General Services, an arm of the Maine Department of Administration and Financial Services.
Toye’s lawsuit claims that state officials failed to conduct a hearing on his initial appeal before denying it, in violation of state law.
It also claims ELC Management’s proposal was incomplete, contained inaccurate calculations and was scored incorrectly given the lease specifications outlined in the state’s request for proposals.
The state plans to consolidate the Cumberland County offices of the DHHS and the Maine Department of Labor, which is currently located in one of Toye’s buildings on Lancaster Street in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood. Under the chosen plan, both agencies would move to a proposed 82,600-square-foot building on Jetport Boulevard, near the Hilton Garden Inn.
Court documents filed by Toye also name Jetport State Building LLC, an arm of ELC Management, headed by Eric and Kenneth Cianchette, as a party of interest in the lawsuit. The Cianchettes have not responded to repeated calls for comment.
Portland officials and others are fighting the move to South Portland, saying the location would make it difficult for people to access services offered by DHHS and the Department of Labor.
Toye said his $30 million, 15-year lease 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. 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.
State officials have until Jan. 31 to act on an option to renew the DHHS lease at 161 Marginal Way, which would come with a rent increase. The state had set a Dec. 15 deadline to complete negotiations with ELC Management.
A state spokeswoman said earlier this week that negotiations continue and that the Maine Attorney General’s Office has advised state officials to avoid commenting on the case while litigation is pending.
ELC Management’s proposal needs permits from the South Portland Planning Board and Maine Department of Environmental Protection, among other agencies. ELC representatives have met with officials at both agencies, but no formal plans had been submitted as of Friday afternoon.
The South Portland proposal also needs an easement from the Portland City Council to build an access road onto Jetport Boulevard, which is owned by the airport and the city of Portland.
Kelley Bouchard can be reached at 791-6328 or at: