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City manager taps Mass. official as planning director

Balancing new development with the goal of preserving existing neighborhoods and historic buildings will be one of the challenges that Jeffrey Levine expects to encounter as planning and urban development director in Portland.
Portland City Manager Mark Rees announced his recommendation of Levine for the position in a Thursday press release. Levine's selection will be considered by the Portland City Council Monday. Levine would replace Penny St. Louis, who left the department last year, and his appointment would conclude a five-month search process.5-18-levine-planner
Levine said he faced the tension between development and preservation as town planner in Brookline, Mass., a community of 58,000 people just outside of Boston.
"In general, there's a lot of interest in preservation, preserving existing neighborhoods," he said in an interview Thursday.
Brookline, a "fairly affluent community, immediately outside Boston," has experienced less commercial development than Portland, but faces many similar issues, Levine said.
"On the average, it's rather affluent, but the story is much more complex than that, there are a lot of low-income residents, and there's a lot of need for affordable housing," he said.
Rees offered an official biography of Levine, citing his accomplishments.
During his tenure at Brookline, Levine guided a $32 million adaptive reuse project at the former Saint Aidan's church into a 59-unit mixed income development with significant preservation of historic structures and open space, Rees stated. Levine worked with commercial and residential developers on new development projects valued at more than $250 million and helped create and launch the Hubway bicycle sharing program.
Prior to joining Brookline, Levine served as director of transportation and long range planning for the city of Sommerville, Mass., during which he helped author a reuse plan for a 145-acre Assembly Square district that began the redevelopment process of the district into a $30 million mixed-use, transit oriented development, Rees said. He also led the early planning process for the Green Line trolley line extension. A graduate of Wesleyan University, Levine earned his Masters in Planning in Economic Development from the University of Minnesota.
"Levine's experience and understanding of diverse urban communities made him the right choice to lead the city's planning and community development efforts," Rees said. "He will be able to help the department continue its progress towards improving services to the public and his community building perspective, thorough knowledge of historic preservation and land use issues will be invaluable."
Rees also cited Levine's expertise in multi-mode transportation issues, affordable housing and complex zoning and land use regulations and more than 15 years experience in municipal planning.
Brookline, a town with a $213 million municipal budget, including $605,000 in the planning department, bears some similarity to Portland, which runs a municipal budget around $206.8 million with an estimated $1.9 million planning budget. Based on a look at demographic data, the communities feature some common traits and a few differences.
"Brookline has continued to become more racially diverse over the past decade with approximately 23.3 percent of the town's population being minority or mixed race," states a January 2012 town demographic report, which cites the 2010 Census. The fastest growing minority group in Brookline is Asian at nearly 15.6 percent of the population, up from 12.8 percent of the population in 2000, the report states.
In Portland, the city's population is 85 percent white, 7.1 percent black or African American and 3.5 percent Asian, according to the 2010 Census, and Portland boasts a diverse immigrant community.
In 2010, approximately 12.3 percent of all Brookline residents had incomes below the poverty level, which was defined as $22,050 for a family of four in 2010, the report continues. In Portland, 17.5 percent of residents were considered below the poverty level, according to Census data.
In Brookline, out of 24,734 households, approximately 20.8 percent of these had a total household income of $200,000 or more. At the same time, 18.6 percent of all households had incomes of less than $25,000. Median household income in 2010 was $96,798 for all households. Per capita income was $64,791. In Portland, per capita annual income was $27,794, and median household income was $44,422, based on Census data.
Levine said he looks forward to "exciting" planning initiatives in Portland and said he is impressed with the city planning staff's good reputation.
Upon confirmation, Levine is expected to begin with the city in a part-time capacity July 9 until Sept. 4 while he and his family relocate to the Portland. Levine said his wife works for an affordable housing funding organization, and they have a son and a daughter.

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