Portland Co. rezoning gets Planning Board endorsement

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PORTLAND — Zoning revisions to allow development of The Portland Co. complex at 58 Fore St. are headed to the City Council with a unanimous recommendation from the city Planning Board.

The recommendation came after a two-hour hearing and meeting Tuesday in City Hall, where it was also learned the property has been nominated for historic preservation.

Whether the nomination is successful, and has any impact on development of the property, remains to be seen.

The board endorsed shifting 12 acres above water and submerged land into extensions of an existing mixed-use zone and the Eastern Waterfront Port Zone.

Jim Brady, a partner in CPB2 with Casey Prentice and Kevin Costello, welcomed the recommendation as a first step.

“We are certainly pleased with outcome of unanimous decision. There is a long road in front of us,” Brady said.

Brady and his partners bought The Portland Co. complex from businessman Phineas Sprague Jr. in 2013. They envision long-term development that will incorporate features of the industrial complex that dates to 1846.

Opponents of the zoning believe development that will encroach on waterfront views, although they said they support reuse of the property where locomotives were constructed and support was provided for the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railroad.

“One of the great experiences of living or visiting is when you come around that corner and there is this incredible view of the water and the contours of where we live,” Atlantic Street resident Stacy Mitchell said. “This is the big policy change and allows for the bulk of what will happen.”

But even as the zoning change moves on to city councilors, city Historic Preservation Manager Deb Andrews announced the site has been nominated for designation as a historic district by Historic Preservation Board members John Turk and Ted Oldham.

Preservation board members had agreed to hold off on a nomination until the Planning Board and City Council zoning deliberations were done, Andrews said, but Turk and Oldham filed the nomination Monday with the belief the rezoning would happen soon.

The Historic Preservation Board will hold a March 18 workshop on the nominations, which require endorsements from the board and Planning Board before a City Council vote. The workshop is scheduled two days after the council could enact the new zoning.

Opponents of the zoning changes, including Barbara Vestal and Ned Chester of Fore Street, argued the new zoning had to require any building heights to be measured from flood-plain levels, because of language in a 2004 building height study that also became part of a 2006 Eastern Waterfront Master Plan.

The new zoning would allow building heights to be considered from the average grade height on the property.

The difference is that the tallest buildings allowed could rise above Fore Street, instead of being no taller than grade level, which would harm the project, according to Woodard & Curran engineer David Senus.

“In many cases, (the shorter restriction) makes building along Fore Street not practical,” Senus said.

After a Planning Board workshop on Feb. 10, Brady, Prentice and Costello added text to the zoning request that bars any building from rising more than 35 feet above  Fore Street, and requires them to be within 100 feet of the Fore Street right of way.

The zoning request also bans bars, brew pubs or microbreweries from Fore Street east of Waterville Street, to create a buffer zone for the neighborhood.

The changes were praised by Planning Board member Jack Soley.

“The text amendments have substance here, it is important to note the applicant has made these concessions,” he said.

He said he understood the worries about a loss of harbor and ocean views.

“For me, it would be more than simply frustrating, it would be emotionally disturbing,” Soley said.

Planning Board Chairman Stuart O’Brien said perspective is needed, as is an update to the zoning.

“We are constantly balancing what we love about Portland with the fact Portland needs to change,” he said, noting there is currently no redevelopment plan to consider.

Board member Bill Hall said the lack of detail about how the site could be redeveloped was troubling.

“We are kind of operating in the dark,” he said. “What is really going to be the build out?”

O’Brien and board members Sean Dundon and Carol Morrissette said future site plan reviews would ensure neighbors could be heard and the historical integrity of the site preserved.

“I really think this allows for some smart development.” Morrissette said.

Future site plan reviews could involve the Historic Preservation Board if the site is placed in a historic district.

The site is eligible for nomination to the U.S. Register of Historic Places, according to a March 31, 2014, memo to Andrews from Maine Historic Preservation Commission architectural historian Christi Mitchell.

A study by Augusta-based Sutherland Conservation & Consulting further detailed the history and inventoried site features last fall.

Now home to the annual Portland Flower Show, the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum and other small businesses, nonprofits, and annual events, The Portland Co. was used industrially until 1982, when its foundry was closed.

“I’m confident we have prepared the documentation needed for consideration,” Andrews said of historic district nomination process.

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

Sidebar Elements

The Portland Co. complex at 58 Fore St. was nominated for designation as a city historic preservation district on Monday, Feb. 23, a day before the city Planning Board endorsed rezoning the Eastern Waterfront property for development.

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.