A decision by the Portland Planning Board will force the University to take serious steps in building a parking garage, perhaps sooner than it planned.

Last week the board voted to approve the University’s plan for a two-story $10 million bio-science facility on the Portland campus, but with a major stipulation. The board said it would not grant a certificate of occupancy for the new facility until it had seen and approved plans for a parking garage.

The decision doesn’t prevent the University from building the bio-science building that will feature 12 labs for high-level research, but it prevents the University from using the building once it’s completed.

Construction on the new facility will begin this spring, according to Bob Caswell, executive director of Media and Community Relations. He said plans for the parking garage should be ready for the Planning Board in early 2003.

“We would have preferred that the bio-science project be approved as presented without that stipulation, but we’re willing to live with it,” said Caswell.

The compromised decision came over a year after the University first presented plans to the city for the bio-science facility amid opposition from community members who said the expansion would worsen a parking situation that is already reaching crisis levels.

“The University has grown since 1970 and taken over nine acres of residential housing and streets,” said Portland Planning Board Member Mark Malone. “With that growth comes a certain responsibility to contain yourself on your campus.”

Malone was the first board member to speak out against the plan during last week’s meeting. His protests led to the compromise.

“I didn’t like the parking plan that was presented,” said Malone. “I think it was a lot of smoke and mirrors.”

He said the compromise was needed.

“I’m not opposed to University growth. I think it’s great for the city,” said Malone. “I just felt like it had breached the breaking point. No more promises. Something had to be done about the parking problem.”

The decision forces the University to act soon in taking definite steps towards the construction of a parking garage, even though it may not have the financial resources to do so.

Despite getting $8 million from a bond in last month’s election, the University is still well short of the $19.4 million needed to finance the parking garage and related community facility on the Portland campus. The Planning Board decision brings a sense of urgency to University officials who have less time than previously thought to raise over $11 million. Officials said the money would be raised by a combination of fundraising and increased fees for students, faculty and staff.

The bio-science building is being financed by over $10 million in bond money approved by voters in November of 1998.

“The institute’s 12 labs will generate research and the graduate level education needed to support this region’s biotech industries,” said Caswell.

Executive Editor Steve Peoples can be contacted at: [email protected]

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