Portland City Council approves India Street plans, zoning

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

PORTLAND — India Street’s past is as old as the city itself.

On Monday, the neighborhood’s future was given more definition when the City Council approved a package of five orders creating historic districts and new zoning.

Councilors also postponed to Dec. 21 a second reading and vote on a proposed zoning change that would allow construction of two office buildings totaling 40,000 square feet at the Portland Elks Lodge No. 188 at 1945 Congress St.

The India Street action was the culmination of more than two years of study.

“This was borne from the community itself,” Planning Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Boepple said about the India Street Sustainable Neighborhood Plan

The new form-based zoning, which councilors will review after three to five years, extends beyond the boundaries of a new historic preservation zone to include the areas bounded by Franklin, Congress, Mountfort, Fore, Hancock and Thames streets.

Intended to “establish a zoning district that encourages a vibrant, walkable, mixed-use urban district,” the zoning splits the areas into subdistricts, where new construction will be regulated to conform with surrounding buildings.

“Form-based coding is not about the use of property,” Boepple said.

The zoning had once been a part of the neighborhood plan accepted by councilors, but was removed and introduced separately. Opponents, including attorney Ed MacColl, said it should not be implemented below Fore Street, because that area has already been designated as part of the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan and as its own historic district.

The new India Street Historic Preservation District runs from Fore to Congress streets, and extends along portions of Newbury and Federal streets, including frontage on Congress Street from Franklin to Montgomery streets.

The district was reduced in scope, but still includes 49 historic structures, with 36 seen as “contributing” to the history of the neighborhood. Landmarks include the former firehouse at 97 India St., St. Peter’s Catholic Church at 72 Federal St., the former Etz Chaim Synagogue (now home to the Maine Jewish Museum) at 267 Congress St., and the former Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue at 145 Newbury St.

Absent from the designation is the Abyssinian House at 73 Newbury St. City Historic Preservation Manager Deb Andrews said including it would have pulled in too many of the surrounding buildings. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Councilors also approved historic landmark status for the Abraham Levey Block at 78 Middle St., a building designed by John Calvin Stevens and considered a “gateway” to the neighborhood by Andrews.

The designations, which add a layer of oversight by the city Historic Preservation Board on site plans and alterations, were opposed by some neighbors, including Newbury Street resident Lindsay Clarke.

“I am concerned about the burden that inclusion in the historic district would mean for my family,” she said.

Considered the first street in the city, India Street has gone through several transformations, most notably after the July 4, 1866, fire that ravaged the peninsula.

The neighborhood was settled by a variety of immigrants and freed slaves. Initial efforts to compose a master plan began about four years ago, and much of the funding for the study came from a grant from Portland University in Oregon.

Elks Lodge delay

The decision to delay action on the Elks Lodge development proposal, which is opposed by neighbors, came after Councilor Ed Suslovic has said he would like to hear more about how the Portland International Jetport Master Plan will affect land across the street from the lodge.

Suslovic also suggested additional review of the status of proposed pedestrian and bicycle improvements in the outer Congress Street neighborhood.

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

Areas inside the red border are part of the new India Street historic preservation zone approved by the Portland City Council on Monday.

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.