Pier owners propose allowing more non-marine uses on Portland waterfront

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PORTLAND — Allowing non-marine uses on first floors, relaxing parking requirements and allowing for larger buildings along Commercial Street are some of the zoning changes proposed by a group of pier owners.

Property owners in the Waterfront Central Zone, which includes the wharves from Maine Wharf west to Deaks Wharf, have been working on rewriting zoning for about six months.

Charlie Poole, owner of Union Wharf and a leader of the group, said the proposed changes are not aimed at displacing marine businesses or fisherman.

“We want to keep the working waterfront working,” Poole said. “Property owners are struggling to find tenants to occupy space. We need to get people in there that are compatible.”

Eleven pier owners worked with city staff to come up with the changes.

“We literally hired city planning staff to work with us on this,” Poole said.

Currently, buildings on piers cannot have non-marine tenants on first floors. The proposed change would allow up to 50 percent of first-floor space to be occupied by retail shops, restaurants, museums and art galleries, among other uses.

Another change would alter parking requirements for pier development. Currently, pier owners seeking to construct a new building on a pier have to provide on-site parking.

“That is hindering the chance for new buildings,” Poole said. “This will allow for the ability to find off-site parking.”

Poole stressed that pier parking for marine uses could not be displaced under the proposed change. 

The other major change involves buildings along Commercial Street. Currently, a building within 35 feet of the south side of Commercial Street can only extend 100 feet toward the water.

The proposal would change that to 150 feet, as long as the building is not within 25 feet of the water. Those buildings are currently allowed to have non-marine uses on all floors.

Poole said that by allowing for more uses along the waterfront, pier owners can better take care of their properties and in return support the fishermen and other marine business.

“We’re just trying to keep this place working,” he said. “We need to keep it fixed up, things like dredging. There is constant maintenance.”

Poole said that while the property owners in the central zone are “100 percent” behind a working waterfront, the fishing industry is not thriving.

“These changes are really like putting some more tools in our tool bag,” he said.

The Planning Board is expected to hold a workshop to discuss the changes in October. Any zoning change will have to eventually go before the City Council for approval. 

Poole said the waterfront property owners are committed to keeping the review process “very public.”

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net