The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has submitted a site plan application for a proposed 62,000-square-foot community VA clinic and adjacent 382-space covered parking garage in Portland west of the Casco Bay Bridge at the site of an abandoned rail spur.

An unidentified West End resident has distributed fliers and created a Change.org petition criticizing the project slated for the north side of West Commercial Street, but as of Wednesday afternoon only one other person had signed the petition.

The proposed 8.4-acre project site was chosen because it is unencumbered by existing buildings and close to major health care facilities, including Maine Medical Center and Northern Light Mercy Hospital’s Fore River Parkway campus, according to the site plan application submitted to the city of Portland.

The two-story clinic would be highly visible and would “communicate the VA’s brand to the local public, establishing the VA as a recognized identity in the Portland community,” the application says.

Plans for the VA clinic, which would be roughly five times larger than the existing VA clinic at 144 Fore St., initially were announced in August 2018, but a specific location had not yet been identified. At the time, the VA said it hoped to have the new clinic operating by winter 2021.

Community VA clinics offer outpatient services away from the state’s main facility, the Togus VA Medical Center in Chelsea, near Augusta, about 60 miles from Portland. The new facility would offer a broad range of services including lab work, dental and eye care, mental health care, and rehabilitation services. A few days a month, it also would offer other medical specialties, such as cardiology and oncology.

The new facility will eventually consolidate VA operations in Portland and Saco.

“There is no timeline for opening of the leased space, but it will eventually replace and consolidate the existing Community Based Outpatient Clinic leases at Saco and Portland to enhance VA outpatient services, allowing VA Maine to continue to provide primary care, mental health care, and existing specialty care services,” said Jonathan Barczyk, public affairs officer for the VA Maine Healthcare System. “Prior to choosing this location, VA sought public comment and feedback, receiving no significant concerns.”

The proposed site for the VA clinic already is zoned for a medical facility, according to the site plan application. Portland spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said the project still would have to undergo a site plan review before the planning board, which would occur at a future meeting that would allow residents to offer public comment.

At least one area resident or group of residents appears to oppose the project. On Sunday, an individual going by the name West End Watch created an online petition on Change.org criticizing the clinic’s proposed location. The webpage cites a lack of public hearings and “critical shuttle services or support for our homeless veterans” as reasons for opposing the project.

“No public transportation service from anywhere to the new VA Hospital in Portland is a slap in the face to these American heroes,” it says, but the petition does not cite any evidence that the clinic wouldn’t offer a shuttle or other means of transportation for patients. The petition had three online signatures as of 4 p.m. Wednesday, which included the petitioner and two signatures left by a Bangor-based reporter seeking an interview with the petitioner.

A resident going by the name West End Watch also has distributed fliers throughout the neighborhood criticizing the project.

According to the site plan application, a development team of JB Brown & Sons, Landry French Construction, Smith Group Architecture and Gorrill Palmer has been assembled to design and build the proposed clinic for the VA.

Putting a larger VA clinic somewhere in or around Portland has been under discussion for years, but funding was only approved in 2018. The VA has 11 community clinics in Maine to serve veterans closer to their homes, three of which operate on limited hours.

The estimated cost of the planned VA clinic in Portland has not been released.

This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 19 to include comment from the VA Maine Healthcare System.

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