Portland City Council freezes development along waterfront

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PORTLAND — A task force appointed by City Manager Jon Jennings could begin looking at how to protect the marine industry and manage contrasting uses of Commercial Street next week.

“It is all just a plan right now,” Jennings said Monday as city councilors approved a 180-day moratorium on “the development of new non-marine structures and expansion of non-marine uses” in the Waterfront Commercial Zone on the sea side of Commercial Street.

The moratorium drew unanimous council support and near-unanimous public support in the preceding 45-minute public hearing. It was passed as an emergency measure, making it effective immediately. It will remain in effect until June 15, 2019.

During that time, Jennings said, the task force will look at zoning, transportation, tax increment financing, enforcement of existing ordinances and re-examining access to piers and wharves.

“We all know Commercial Street is broken and we have been looking at ways to fix it,” Jennings said, adding he expects incremental recommendations from the task force, rather than a single large package of proposals.

Jennings said the task force will include pier owners, watermen, some Commercial Street business owners and members of the public, who will convene in open meetings.

The moratorium also heads off efforts for a referendum crafted to specifically address amendments to the 1987 zoning passed by voters that cover three waterfront districts. Most especially, the referendum would eliminate the 2010 overlay zone in the Waterfront Commercial Zone that allows non-marine residential and hotel uses if city councilors approve conditional zoning.

The referendum also seeks to eliminate all parking used by non-marine businesses outside the waterfront zone within three years of passage.

Supported by fishermen – including Willis Spear Jr. and Keith Lane – the moratorium also was endorsed by pier owners Ken Macgowan, Steve DiMillo, Charlie Poole and Poole’s son, Parker Poole.

“There are a lot of smart people in the room who will participate and I know we will come out with a good result,” Charlie Poole said of the task force.

While looking at ways to manage traffic and pedestrian flow, Jennings said using TIF funds while developing credit enhancement agreements with pier owners may be a way to pay for needed dredging and provide economic assistance.

Existing TIF uses have been expanded already to help pay for dredging. The credit enhancement agreements could give pier owners rebates on increased valuations that would help keep berthing fees affordable for watermen.

Poole said renovations to 200 feet of Union Wharf cost about $1.8 million, while annual berthing fees are, at most, $6,000 for larger boats.

Macgowan said he would welcome TIF spending.

“I haven’t seen any of it, I haven’t seen anything but taxes go up every year,” he said while urging the task force to be aggressively seeking solutions.

Lane said worries about the impact development has had on commercial fishing was the reason for the petition drive to get a referendum on the ballot. He hoped for a better process with the moratorium “so that we may move forward with mutual trust in a timely fashion to solve the fishing industry’s problems.”

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

Fishermen Willis Spear Jr. and Keith Lane, who work from Portland’s Custom House Wharf, said Dec. 17 they support a moratorium on waterfront development in hopes for solutions to save their livelihoods.

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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.