Portland City Council to get temporary zoning changes for Munjoy Hill

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PORTLAND — Changes to building heights and lot setbacks are among temporary guidelines for development on Munjoy Hill that could be enacted by Feb. 5.

The guidelines were supposed to be introduced at the City Ccouncil’s Jan. 17 meeting, which was canceled due to bad weather. The meeting was rescheduled to Jan. 31, with an unchanged agenda, which does not yet include the zoning rules.

They can still be added to the agenda for a first reading with a vote from councilors. A public hearing and council vote could then be set for Feb. 5.

If passed, the rules would be in effect until June 4.

According to a Jan. 12 memo from Senior Planner Christine Grimando, Feb. 5 is the last date to pass temporary rules for the R-6 zone on Munjoy Hill to have them fit into the 115-day period incorporated as a part of a wider 180-day moratorium on demolitions and development approved by councilors in December.

The moratorium is retroactive to Dec. 4, 2017, although applications for site plan review and demolitions made before that date will be reviewed under existing zoning rules.

The temporary overlay zone would restrict heights to 35 feet for buildings with fewer than three units, and 45 feet for buildings with three or more units. The height restrictions also include any “rooftop appurtenances other than chimneys.”

Within the buildings, new rules also require that 50 percent of frontage space on the first floor “contain active living space with windows,” while parking spaces must be in back of the building and at least 10 feet from the frontage space, except on lots smaller than 2,000 square feet, where a garage door can be incorporated in the design.

New rules also create larger setbacks for new buildings from property lines of at least 5 feet where setback requirements had not existed.

City planners are working on permanent zoning standards, in part because of an audit on the effect of changes to the R-6 zones on the city peninsula approved in 2015.

Among those changes, designed to create more housing, were increased population density, reduced lot sizes and allowing more off-street parking in new construction.

Audit results show 13 of 17 demolitions in R-6 zones since 2015 happened on Munjoy Hill, and the pace accelerated last year.

For residents such as Walter and Kelly Williams of 24 St. Lawrence St., the 2015 zoning changes allowed them an opportunity to stay in the neighborhood. The couple plans to build a four-story, five-unit condominium where their two-family home, built in 1860, now stands. Their plans will be considered under existing rules.

While the Williamses would like to stay and have a home better suited to their needs that can provide some income, neighbors have expressed concern the fabric of the neighborhood is coming apart as traditional homes are torn down and the replacements are priced too high for residents to afford.

Since the R-6 zoning was amended in 2015, city staff has determined 29 more housing units were added to Munjoy Hill. None are considered affordable by area median income standards. In R-6 zones off Munjoy Hill, the changes resulted in 60 new housing units, with 38 considered affordable.

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

Temporary zoning changes to be presented to Portland city councilors Jan. 31 encompass the shaded area on Munjoy Hill. They would be in effect until June 4.

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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.