Portland council clears way for waterfront development

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PORTLAND — City councilors had much to discuss during Monday’s 3 1/2-hour meeting.

Much of what they talked about will come up again next month and in November, since votes on two of three items considered were postponed.

With Councilor Justin Costa absent and Councilor Spencer Thibodeau recusing himself, councilors approved a zoning amendment that will allow the skyline and streetscapes on the eastern waterfront to continue to undergo a development transformation with the addition of a large mixed-use office building and garage.

The council postponed votes on amending the ordinance regulating short-term rentals and a proposed moratorium on opening marijuana-related industries. The moratorium vote was postponed to Oct. 1.

The text changes to the rental ordinance may not be decided until Nov. 5, or later. They could be considered as part of a package of changes that include fee increases and a new definition of owner-occupied buildings, and affect the mainland rental cap of 300 units in buildings not occupied by owners.

Councilors did support the request by developer Jonathan Cohen to change the zoning map in the B-6 area on Fore Street from the Mountfort Street intersection to the former Portland Co. property, to allow a maximum building height of 55 feet, up from 45 feet. The change also affects the remainder of city-owned land fronting Thames Street.

The land at 100 Fore St. is now home to Hamilton Marine, and adjacent to the new WEX headquarters Cohen is building on land he bought from the city for $3.3 million last year.

The zoning change also measures building heights from the average grade instead of floodplain level. 

Director of City Planning Tuck O’Brien said the lot is the last in the city using the floodplain measurement.

During a 20-minute public hearing, area residents, including Tony Donovan, objected to the zoning changes and scope of the new mixed-use development Cohen has planned. It would include a 600-vehicle garage with ground-floor retail and offices above.

While the maximum building heights could only be reached at a spot at least 40 feet away from Fore Street, Cohen’s plans for a 600-space parking garage brought worries about added congestion.

Donovan said the city should not be shutting off its options for rail service to take vehicles off the road. 

O’Brien said the garage could be built under the existing zoning rules, and said the 600 new parking spaces were not a net gain as there are 330 in the area presently.

Councilor Belinda Ray said she is also worried about increased traffic in the area, but said the new zoning rules would also allow a better mixed-use project that could conceal some of the garage.

As the city sorts out how to zone retail and other marijuana operations in light of changes in state law enacted July 9, it has sought to put a halt on new caregiver retail stores, and manufacturing and testing facilities.

The 180-day proposed moratorium would be retroactive to July 9 and extend to Jan. 5. City attorney Anne Torregrossa said the moratorium would affect at least five operations with applications under review by the city.

During a 30-minute public hearing, attorney Hannah King of Drummond Woodsum, representing four of the applicants, asked the moratorium be amended to remove testing and extraction facilities from consideration as those are already covered by state law.

Because it takes seven votes to pass a retroactive moratorium, and Thibodeau had again recused himself, Mayor Ethan Strimling moved to postpone the vote until Costa could attend the next meeting in order to have eight councilors present.

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

Portland councilors on Sept. 17 approved zoning changes that will lead to redevelopment of this land at 100 Fore St.

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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.