PORTSMOUTH — Developer Mark McNabb’s request to build six apartments over a downtown restaurant — but provide no on-site parking — received a key endorsement from a city committee.
The Technical Advisory Committee voted on Tuesday to recommend that the Planning Board grant a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to allow zero parking at the 111 State St. building, where 46 are required under the city’s zoning ordinance.
Sol Southern Kitchen and Lounge had previously opened in the building, but announced in July it was closing temporarily so the renovation work to create housing on the upper two floors could be completed, along with the “reconstruction of the restaurant,” according to the facility’s website.
Engineer John Chagnon of Ambit Engineering Inc., who is part of the development team, told TAC members this week the initial plan was for the restaurant to use both the first and second floors of the three-story historic building.
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But that plan eventually changed, with housing being planned for the entire second and third floors.
McNabb, who appeared at Tuesday’s meeting, told the board his group decided to keep the restaurant use to one floor when they realized there was not enough demand to use the second story, too.
“We just don’t have the business to have a two-story restaurant,” McNabb said. “It’s just run its course, the second floor has no demand, it not only has no demand, it loses significant money and it can’t be staffed.”
At that point, McNabb added, “We said, well wait a minute, we have a housing problem, on all our restaurants. Closing that second floor of Sol, really its only use with one exit out and for our demand is residential.”
The Portsmouth developer has been trying to add residential units to multiple buildings he owns downtown because of the city’s well-documented housing shortage.
McNabb, making his pitch on the parking issue, said he has about 30 people living in downtown apartments he owns and only two have cars.
“For some people it’s hard to understand there are some people without cars, but there are,” McNabb said. “There’s a number of people who choose not to have them, there’s a number of people who aren’t allowed to have them, and then there’s a lot of (J1 visa holders),” he said in reference to foreign workers in the country for a limited period of time.
“It’s a really good product to have, it limits who will rent it. And that’s the type of rentals we need for our restaurant housing downtown,” he added.
He pointed in Portsmouth’s 400-year-old Historic District, “80 percent of our buildings are built on lot lines.”
“We can’t provide parking. And so I think there’s a misunderstanding sometimes that people think like there’s favoritism played or something,” he said. “This building in particular is one of the oldest ones, the front of it is 1791. I can’t provide a well or a leach field any more than I can provide parking, I’m dead on arrival.”
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The CUP parking request will still need to be approved by the Planning Board.
The housing now proposed for the site calls for three apartments on the second floor, including a four-bedroom unit, a two-bedroom unit and a one-bedroom unit, according to plans filed with the city.
The housing proposed for the third floor calls for three additional apartments, including a one-bedroom unit and a two-bedroom unit, according to the plans.
The property was most recently assessed at $2.5 million, according to records with the city’s assessor’s office.