Portland council gets preview of new Comp Plan, corridor study

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PORTLAND — A new Comprehensive Plan should be ready for City Council and Planning Board review early next year, city planning staff told councilors Monday night.

In a two-hour workshop to review progress and plans on several fronts, Planning & Urban Development Director Jeff Levine said the new Comp Plan would be user friendly and concentrate on the shape of the city over the next decade.

Mayor Ethan Strimling was unable to attend the workshop, but the councilors in attendance also heard updates on plans and studies by the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, and study results on traffic and pedestrian accessibility in East Bayside and along West Commercial Street from High Street to Cassidy Point.

The Bayside Transportation Master Plan is so extensive that city Transportation Program Manager Bruce Hyman was able to discuss only one of six recommendations in the area, concerning improvements on the length of Marginal Way.

Discussion about the West Commercial Street Multi-Modal Corridor Study proved most contentious, as councilors disagreed on whether a bicycle lane on the waterfront side of Commercial Street east of the Casco Bay Bridge is appropriate or hazardous.

City Planning Director Tuck O’Brien and Senior Planner Christine Grimando guided councilors through the process of developing a new Comprehensive Plan to replace one passed in 2003 and amended in 2005. That plan required re-certification by the state, and it was decided a whole new plan was more appropriate.

“The next big step will be the release of a draft version for input,” O’Brien said. He added the process of compiling input and data for the plan has involved a wider range of city departments and other stakeholders, including the police and fire departments.

Grimando said equability is a key theme for the new plan, and how that connects to land use, housing and the waterfront while keying in on areas where growth can occur in the next 10 years.

The new comprehensive plan will likely be followed by revamping city zoning, O’Brien said.

“It would put us in a difficult spot if we brought forth a new plan and left our zoning where it is,” he said.

Completed and future development along West Commercial Street, most notably at the expanded International Marine Terminal, was the impetus for the study about transportation.

City Waterfront Coordinator Bill Needelman said there is a need for balancing large and small vehicles while considering where to place paths and bicycle lanes.

“We are going to need truck parking on West Commercial street for the foreseeable future,” he cautioned.

Short-term study recommendations include reconfiguring the parking area at Benny’s Famous Fried Clams near Cassidy Point to build a shared-use path extending to the Star Match Building, expanding the sidewalk in front of that building for shared use, and adding bike lanes to the stretch from below the Casco Bay Bridge to Maple Street.

Needelman said business owners on the waterfront side are concerned bike lanes would be a danger because trucks are frequently unloaded on the street.

Councilor David Brenerman agreed.

“There are very few truly industrial areas in the city, and this is probably the most significant,” he said. “I think it is too dangerous.”

Councilors Jill Duson, Spencer Thibodeau, Belinda Ray and Ed Suslovic disagreed, but Suslovic said it might be best to see if the shared-use path could be extended on the landward side of Commercial Street to Maple Street.

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

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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.