India Street plan heads to Portland council, with some dissent

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PORTLAND — A long-considered study about preserving the India Street neighborhood will be submitted to the full City Council on Monday, Oct. 20.

But the India Street Sustainable Neighborhood Plan does not have unanimous support from the committee that created it.

“We pushed this plan forward without knowing what we are supporting, in my opinion,” panel member Brandon Mazer said Friday, Oct. 10.

Mazer, the in-house counsel at Shipyard Brewing Co. at 86 Newbury St., was the dissenting vote when members of the India Street Neighborhood Advisory Committee voted 9-1 on Sept. 22 to send the report to the City Council Housing & Community Development Committee, led by Councilor Kevin Donoghue.

The committee forwarded the plan to the City Council on Oct. 8 for possible inclusion in the city Comprehensive Plan.

Mazer, who wrote a minority report also included with the plan, said questions about “form-based code” and the scope of the area included in the plan remain problems, and could affect future development at the brewery, which is celebrating its 20th year in the former Laughlin Steel foundry.

Shipyard also owns two adjacent properties, which could be affected by the city Historical Preservation and Planning Board’s oversight on site plans in historic preservation districts.

“Frankly, the buildings I don’t think are anything special,” he said.

As the oldest street in Portland, India Street and its surroundings have been examined from end to end in projects by Sustain Southern Maine, Portland (Oregon) State University and the University of California at Davis.

The India Street Sustainable Neighborhood Plan was written by the India Street Neighborhood Advisory Committee, formed with members from the neighborhood association, city Planning Department staff, University of Southern Maine professor Richard Barringer, and local architects.

The plan considered India Street, which runs between Commercial and Congress street, and an area from Franklin to Mountfort and Commercial to Congress streets.

The report recommends economic and residential development should be done with a distinct neighborhood identity in mind, and should include affordable housing, more recreation, and a cluster of business development along India and Middle streets.

In a memo to the Housing and Community Development Committee, city Planning Director Alex Jaegerman noted the report shelved a proposed historic district map, preferring to leave the decisions to the city Historic Preservation Board, while also backing away from specific form-based code provisions and “inclusionary zoning” designed to promote high-density residential living.

The report still contains “the Character District Map” detailing neighborhood street and block types that could be subject to a form-based building code that ensures new construction fits in with surrounding buildings.

The code would “replace the myriad zoning districts in this neighborhood,” Jaegerman said.

Mazer said a form-based code could prevent fuller development of lots including the former Grand Trunk Railroad property at the corner of Hancock and Fore streets, where there is no real residential heritage to preserve.

“We are part of the neighborhood, but not the residential part,” Mazer said.

The report recommends developing an identity for the neighborhood while protecting historic landmarks that include the Abyssinian Meeting House, India Street Fire Station, and former North School.

Mazer said he appreciates the history of the neighborhood and the plans to create affordable housing. But he said Shipyard may be better viewed in context of the waterfront master plan that also includes the Portland Company properties on Fore Street. The plan was last revised in 2006.

“There is a fine balance in the neighborhood,” he said. “We want to work together to come to a whole solution.”

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

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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.