Portland area real estate agent and developer Tom Landry would like you to think of his new condominium project, Solaris, as being like Tesla’s Model S. “Ten years ago,” he explains, “many laughed at that electricity-powered plug-in car. Their second model, after the truly exotic and less practical Roadster, was aimed squarely at the luxury sedan market. Meanwhile, venerated brands such as BMW, Mercedes and Cadillac continued to produce vehicles much as they had for decades.
But now that climate change is inescapably obvious, people recognize the Tesla’s brilliance. Its maker sold a record half-million vehicles this past year. The cost of new models has come down, battery-charging stations are easier to find and the car-buying public “gets it.” Going green is so popular now that even older car companies are making electric cars a priority.
“So, I don’t know why real estate developers today are still building like it’s 1950,” Landry says. “It’s not enough to have luxury fit and finish and meet the minimum standards for building code and energy savings. We need to build better, smarter, healthier homes that offer all the high-end amenities people expect and more. We need to design, build and deliver the architecture of the future that employs the best building science and practices, and has climate change and environmental responsibility at the forefront.
“It’s obvious that the future is now and we all need
to take steps to combat climate change. I wanted to do
my part and build what will be one of the most
forward-thinking condo buildings ever constructed
Solaris, which will rise from a vacant lot on Morning Street in Portland’s Munjoy Hill, has been in development for over two years so Landry could “get it right,” he says. He is not new to the business, having spent 30 years rescuing and restoring homes in Greater Portland, turning commercial spaces into hip urban lofts and building ground-up luxury condos. He is the owner and founder of Benchmark Real Estate and CornerStone Building & Restoration, both part of Solaris.
Landry is no stranger to Munjoy Hill either, having completed projects on Cumberland Avenue, Montreal, Monument, Merrill and Howard streets, and sold hundreds more homes across the city. As a local he is keenly aware and sympathetic to area concerns about scale and aesthetics. Always one to take a collaborative approach, Landry worked closely with neighbors, the neighborhood association and the city’s historic preservation department on Solaris.
In a nod to the neighborhood, what a historian once called “architectural charity” or “fitting in,” Landry will cover the building exterior with clapboards, and not just old fashioned wood but high-tech modern ones made from composite material warranted for 50 years. This and other high-quality, low-maintenance choices will make Solaris nearly maintenance free, Landry says.
He’s designed the facade as a modern version of the area’s traditional triple deckers with porches stacked over each other, just like a property a few doors away. The property has familiar lines, a traditional roof overhang and garage parking with an EV charger on the rear.
What will make Solaris stand out from its neighbors however is what you can’t see. It will include some of the highest-rated triple-pane windows available anywhere from Performance Building Supply in Portland, a company Landry calls “my green building gurus.” It will have thick insulation, low-flow plumbing, super-efficient Daikin heat pumps for heat and AC, indoor bicycle parking, and a solar farm on the roof. The solar panels are a costly addition, Landry admits, but when added to all the other choices, it puts Solaris on the forefront of 21st century Portland. He estimates the 70 roof panels will create a 50% electricity use offset, meaning condo owners should get rebates and discounts from Central Maine Power, reducing the monthly costs.. Local company Revision Energy provided these calculations.
Solaris was ready to go public just as COVID-19 shut Portland down. The unexpected pandemic pause shook up not only Landry’s plans but his thinking.
“I saw how people were radically changing
how they lived in their homes,” he says.
The minimalist units he’d envisioned needed
to be reimagined to accommodate a lifestyle
that now included doing just about everything
In a pivotal moment for Solaris, Landry scrapped the original design for smaller spaces and totally reconfigured the interior into six, three-bedroom flats, two on each floor. In addition to the additional bedrooms, every unit has a dedicated “work from home” office area and a powder room for visiting clients or guests. Each has a pantry to keep the kitchen well stocked and two decks for getting outside. Responding to consumer demand, Landry created an owner-friendly building and association that welcomes pets, allows rentals of three months of more and has some of the lowest condo fees in the area. Owners will have storage, a dedicated bike room, hot and cold outdoor faucets for washing floor mats, muddy paws or a sandy paddleboard fresh off the beach.
The final piece de resistance is the outdoor space with its shared grilling area and organic gardening plots. “I wanted to give new owners as many of the features they want and need. Working as a Realtor® for nearly 20 years, I often hear condo buyers say something like, ‘We know it’s time to leave this big house and I’m OK with downsizing, but I really want my own outdoor space and a small garden.’”
Working with renowned local landscape architect Soren Deniord and Sam Lebel of Acorn Engineering, Landry found space on the south side of the building for each owner to have an organic plot of land. When you combine the expansive decks, the grilling area, the garden plots and a location a block from Portland’s coveted Eastern Promenade, the outdoors is always close.
Landry expects to break ground on Morning Street for Solaris in May 2021, with occupancy expected summer of 2022. Several flats have already been reserved. Benchmark Real Estate is handling all inquiries and sales.