Portland council OKs new zoning rules for Munjoy Hill

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PORTLAND — Temporary design standards for Munjoy Hill construction and the concert lineup for the Maine State Pier gained City Council approval Monday night.

Mayor Ethan Strimling’s desire to serve as a council representative on the Greater Portland Transit District wasn’t successful; councilors instead returned former Councilor Ed Suslovic to the transportation board.

Under the new design rules, the city will again accept applications for development in the R-6 zone covering much of Munjoy Hill, but plans will be reviewed under standards that will be in place until June 4.

The temporary standards are a likely precursor to permanent zoning changes and include new restrictions such as limiting building heights to 35 feet if fewer than three housing units are planned.

In buildings where three or more are planned, the maximum height allowed is 45 feet.

As described by City Planning Director Jeff Levine, the temporary rules also address off-street parking, requiring it be in the rear of most new developments while the first-floor street facings include living space.

Construction setbacks along property lines have also been revised.

The new rules were written as part of a moratorium on tearing down buildings in the zone passed by councilors Dec. 4, 2017. Levine added that his department had already been auditing the effect of prior amendments to the R-6 zone councilors passed in 2015.

Levine also said the permanent rules are expected to be readied for a Planning Board review by mid-April. The process will include two public forums before Planning Board workshops, and rules will require council approval.

The moratorium on tearing down buildings and temporary zoning rules both expire June 4. 

The festival permit for Waterfront Concerts allows for at least 15 shows at the Maine State Pier, down from the peak of 28 concerts in 2016.

There was no public comment on the permit application, but Councilors Belinda Ray, Jill Duson and Brian Batson asked about how the city and promoter are handling noise, and the role Waterfront Concerts President and Owner Alex Gray will play in local operations. 

City Director of Public Assembly Facilities Andy Downs said 2017 shows generated more than $50,000 in revenue for the city, while also generating a total of 129 noise complaints.

Of the complaints, 52 were logged at two shows, the first on May 27, 2017, and the second on Sept. 10, 2017. Those were shows with an abundance of bass beats. Overall, the concerts were found to comply with the city limit of 92 decibels, Downs said.

The city now urges anyone with complaints about concert noise to call the city police non-emergency number at 874-8479 for the best response and most accurate call logging.

“A phone call that night is the most effective and fastest way to take action,” Downs said.

Gray, who pleaded guilty to domestic violence assault last October, is still part of Waterfront Concerts while John Dow remains most directly involved with local shows. 

After postponing the appointment for transit district members from Jan. 3, Suslovic was returned to the board on which he has also presided.

He will be joined by Ray and Council Pious Ali, as well as city Finance Director Brendan O’Connell and Portland International Director Paul Bradbury.

Ray moved to have Suslovic returned because of his experience and councilors agreed have three elected members on the board was one too many.

O’Connell will replace Planning Director Jeff Levine, as City Manager said his financial oversight will be needed and Levine has too much other work this year. That includes revising the city zoning rules.

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.