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Portland West End residents remain unhappy about proposed zoning amendment

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Portland West End residents remain unhappy about proposed zoning amendment

PORTLAND — A hotly debated proposed zoning change along the western waterfront went before the City Council for the first time Monday evening, paving the way for a council vote on Feb. 22.

The proposed changes would transform most of the area of 113 to 201 West Commercial St. from a Waterfront Port Development zone to a Mixed Commercial Use zone. It would also change part of a 10.65-acre property running along a cliff into a West End Residential zone, limiting the potential to build on what is already a challenging incline.

The land, which is vacant except for seasonal food vendor Benny's Fried Clams, was bought in November by J.B. Brown & Sons, a Portland developer that also owns the neighboring Star Match complex. J.B. Brown requested the zoning change.

While the company does not yet have specific plans for the site, J.B. Brown President Vincent Veroneau said that the zoning changes are needed to “broaden potential uses” of the site and attract potential businesses.

The current waterfront development zone designation “would only allow heavy marine–related use,” Veroneau said. The land does not have direct waterfront access.

During a series of neighborhood meetings and a Planning Board public hearing from September, 2011, through January, residents of the area expressed concern that the mixed use zoning tag, which allows buildings up to 65 feet tall, would result in over–sized new developments out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood.

Some feared that a new building would block views, particularly from Danforth Street, and reduce property values.

Brown agreed to include an exception to the standard mixed use zoning rule limiting new buildings to 45 feet to the west of Fletcher Street, and to 55 feet between Fletcher and Emery streets as a result of the public debate, which Planning Board member Joe Lewis said “may have had more dialog than usual.”

“It's had a well-vetted public dialog on the potential development,” Veroneau said.

But area residents still have misgivings about the proposed zoning amendment.

“If you're going to do 45 feet for one part of it, why not do 45 feet for all of it,” Mike Stone asked councilors on Monday. Other nearby buildings, including the Star Match building, are roughly the same size as the loosely envisioned proposal J.B. Brown made for office buildings and surface parking on the property, he said, but “if you look at those on a scale, and put them in that space, they'll be too high.”

Jo Coyne, who said that some Planning Board members seemed out of tune with area residents during public meetings on the proposed amendments, agreed that development, fit to scale, is appropriate to the site.

“I and many people believe we're not opposed to development on West Commercial Street, but it should be limited to 45 feet,” Coyne said.

Andrew Cullen can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or acullen@theforecaster.net. Follow Andrew on Twitter: @ACullenFore.