Focus returns to Fore Street project in Portland

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PORTLAND — Opponents were expected to renew their call for a scaled-back project Tuesday night when the Planning Board was scheduled to vote on the master plan for the former Portland Co. property on Fore Street.

Opponents of the master plan have formed the nonprofit Portlanders for Responsible Development, which includes attorney Barbara Vestal. Vestal wrote the failed 2015 referendum question that sought to block construction of buildings that would encroach on views from Fore Street over the harbor.

“PRD and its members are strongly in favor of redevelopment of the Portland Co. property as long as that redevelopment is in accord with the City Comprehensive Plan, and as long as it honors the Historic District,” a news release from the group said.

“The plan put forth is consistent with zoning ordinances and comprehensive plan,” developer Jim Brady of CPB2 said Tuesday before the hearing about the template for developing 10 acres of land on the former industrial site at 58 Fore St.

Brady, with partners Casey Prentice and Kevin Costello, operate under the CPB2 name. They plan a mixed-use complex and marina built in seven historic buildings once used for railroad manufacturing by the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad.

The phased plan includes new construction of about 630 housing units and a 125-room hotel extending back to Fore Street as it ascends Munjoy Hill.

The development could cost as much as $250 million and take 10 years to complete. Brady said Tuesday it is likely the historic core of the land, now placed in a city historic preservation zone, could be first in line for development.

That could change as the marketplace does, he noted.

Approving the master plan does not approve specific phases of construction that require individual site plans. The master plan was recommended by the Historic Preservation Board earlier this month, although the HPD is opposed to any plans to build housing on top of three historic structures which sit along Fore Street.

As a condition of approval, the Planning Board could seek to remove those housing plans.

“We are going to go along with the Historic Preservation Board recommendation for now,” Brady said. “We would like the Planning Board to leave door open so we could re-approach the Historic Preservation Board (and) come back with a different design solution.”

Attorney Peter Murray of Portlanders for Reasonable Development said Monday the master plan does not adhere to the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan, incorporated in the city Comprehensive Plan about a decade ago.

In 2015, opponents posed arguments on the loss of inland views. In a brief to the Planning Board for Tuesday’s hearing, opponents focused on the water view and the height of buildings extending back to Fore Street.

“The proposed 9-10 story buildings rising from the near sea-level site and extending 35 feet above the grade of Fore Street violate the Master Plan’s clearly stated vision of the preservation of views to and from the water,” according to a PRD press release.

Developers and opponents have long been at odds on how to measure building heights and the intent of city officials in passing the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan.

Opponents of the CPB2 master plan said building heights should be measured from the flood plain at the waterfront, not the average grade of the property, which could add 40 feet to allowable building heights.

The failed 2015 referendum sought to amend the zoning on the Portland Co. property to to specify the flood plain measurement.

Murray said Monday the Planning Board needs to understand its administrative role in approving the plan, which would allow it to consider “overwhelming evidence” the floodplain measurement was the intent of planners.

The city caps any development at 35 feet above Fore Street between East Mountfort and Atlantic streets, and Brady said the master plan concept adheres to those height restrictions.

Murray and PRD members argue the planned parking garage at the base of new construction and the average grade height measurement allows developers to skirt a stated intention of four to six story buildings on the site in favor of the 9- or 10-story buildings.

Developers also plan to move one of the site’s historic buildings to better accommodate an extension of Thames Street to connect with Fore Street. Brady said the new road would basically obscure the first floor of what is called “Building 12,” and moving it would allow it better context in connection with the rest of the historic site.

With the building’s move, the city could also shift the boundaries of the historic district, so the any changes to Building 12 would still require approval from the Historic Preservation Board.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The master plan for development of the former Portland Co. site at 58 Fore St. in Portland was scheduled for a Dec. 20 Planning Board vote.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.