UPDATE: Portland petition drive to protect working waterfront put on hold

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PORTLAND — The city hopes to tighten zoning on the working waterfront after plans for a waterfront hotel and a petition drive for a zoning referendum were dropped.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” Yarmouth lobstermen Willis Spear said Tuesday about achieving rezoning that would prevent conditional uses such as hotels and residences on the water side of Commercial Street.

Spear said more than 2,300 signatures had been gathered in support of a referendum, with 1,500 needed to get it on the ballot. Those signatures will not be turned in on the Friday, Jan. 18, deadline.

The decision to hold off cam after developer David Bateman on Jan. 10 said his request to rezone 184 Commercial St. would not include the 93-room hotel Spear and lobsterman Keith Lane called a catalyst for the petition drive.

“We do not wish to be a contributing factor to any actions which would create a negative impact on our fellow wharf owners,” Bateman said in a letter to City Manager Jon Jennings.

On Thursday, Jan. 17, at 3 p.m., the Waterfront Working Group task force will meet to discuss how the overlay zone where Bateman’s Fisherman’s Wharf LLC hopes to build can be amended to prohibit contract zoning for otherwise prohibited uses.

On Jan. 11, Jennings said the amendment discussed at the task force meeting would be presented to the city Planning Board at a Jan. 22 workshop.

The overlay area, created by councilors inside the Waterfront Central Zone in 2010, presently allows land uses – including hotel and residential development otherwise prohibited in the zone – with City Council approval.

The Waterfront Central Zone was established after a 1987 referendum designed to protect the working waterfront by limiting or prohibiting nonmarine-related uses.

Bateman’s request, filed in May 2017, had not made it past the stage of Planning Board workshops. His Jan. 10 letter said he specifically removed the hotel from the request, but not the entire conditional zoning request that also includes a marine dispatch center, retail and office space, and a restaurant.

Both Jennings and Mayor Ethan Strimling were opposed to the hotel.

“I’d like to thank (Bateman) for taking this important step, as we did not think a hotel use on the waterfront side of Commercial Street was compatible with our working waterfront,” Jennings said Jan. 11.

Mark Robinson, a spokesman for Bateman, on Jan. 11 said the plans are not completely shelved.

“It’s too early to say what a re-design will look like. They just spent several months designing new working waterfront features into their project, but events conspired to deny them the chance to present those ideas … So it’s time to regroup,” Robinson said in an email.

Approval of the hotel was considered unlikely even before District 1 Councilor Belinda Ray on Jan. 3 said said the entire City Council opposed the request.

“That is the most important thing right now, the amended rezoning,” Spear said about the task force objectives.

The referendum would eliminate the overlay in order to return to the zoning approved by city voters in a 1987 referendum, and also amend parking rules to include more spaces for marine-related workers and island residents.

Organizers had put the drive on hold after councilors on Dec. 17, 2018, enacted a 180-day moratorium on non-marine development in the area and approved the task force to discuss land use, parking, dredging and other facets of preserving the water side of Commercial Street for marine-related uses.

Spear thanked former Portland City Councilor Orlando Delogu for writing the referendum question and the volunteers who gathered signatures, and emphasized it is on hold, not dead.

“If our goals are not achieved,” he said, “there is a strong possibility of a referendum.”

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Updated Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.

Developer David Bateman said Jan. 10 a request for conditional zoning at 184 Commercial St. in Portland no longer includes a 93-room hotel.

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.