Portland council approves Munjoy Hill zoning changes

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PORTLAND  With about 30 minutes left before zoning rules and a demolition moratorium were set to expire, councilors on Monday approved new regulations for Munjoy Hill.

By a vote of 8-1, with Councilor Kim Cook opposed, the zoning changes that include a waiting period of as long as 12 months on tearing down existing buildings were passed and enacted Tuesday morning.

“This continues to allow us to have density on the hill,” Councilor Belinda Ray said, “(but) does it in a way that is density, not claustrophobia.”

The new rules and process governing building heights, setbacks from property lines, design standards and the waiting period on tearing down existing buildings both replace and incorporate some elements of the temporary zoning for the R-6 zone on Munjoy Hill.

A 180-day moratorium on granting new demolition permits had been in place since Dec. 4, but councilors amended the proposed 18-month waiting period replacing the moratorium to 12 months after city Planning Director Jeff Levine said a year is a basic standard in places with such regulations.

The waiting time on demolitions, which began occurring more frequently on Munjoy Hill following revisions to R-6 zoning in 2015, applies specifically to buildings constructed before 1930 that are “representative of a building type or architectural style of Munjoy Hill and (retaining) sufficient integrity of design, materials, condition and craftsmanship to make adaptive reuse a viable option.”

Ray successfully moved to amend new rules to require any new construction 45 feet high to include at least one housing unit priced at workforce rates, defined in the city’s inclusionary zoning as 100 percent or less of the area median income.

Cook opposed Ray’s amendment, saying it was better suited to be part of the discussion on expanding inclusionary zoning, but councilors, including Jill Duson, said using the requirement as a development bonus was a good idea.

Ray also successfully moved to tweak some zoning language, while Cook’s other amendments to allow rooftop access in homes within certain limits and to reduce side yard setbacks from 20 feet to 15 feet failed.

As the votes on defining the zoning, its mapped area and additional terms for extensions on buildings (which applies throughout the city) approached, Mayor Ethan Strimling swapped seats with Ray so she could call the roll on three orders.

The new zoning discussions took up the bulk of the six-hour meeting preceded by a 75-minute workshop. A public hearing where the measures drew a lot of public support lasted two hours, as residents said they worried the development boom in the neighborhood would ruin its unique qualities.

“The diversity of our community is waning … every time one of those big boxes goes up, the streetscape changes,” Fore Street resident and local attorney Ned Chester said.

Some who have bought into the neighborhood said the homes they purchased are not fit for renovation and the zoning changes have left them stuck.

“You are pulling the rug out from under people like me,” Montreal Street property owner Kevin Carter said.

The zoning changes in the R-6 area may not be done. Greater Portland Landmarks has advocated creating a historic preservation district similar to one on the city’s West End.

Levine and Deb Andrews of the city Planning Department noted staff is looking at whether one could be established, though Levine doubted it would encompass the entire R-6 zone now known as the Munjoy Hill Overlay District.

Andrews said staff may have its proposal ready for review in the fall.

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

The shaded area is an R-6 zone that has become a conservation district on Portland’s Munjoy Hill.

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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.