Portland councilors weigh Munjoy Hill tear-down moratorium

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PORTLAND — City councilors Dec. 18 will vote on a proposed moratorium on tearing down Munjoy Hill buildings.

The moratorium, proposed by District 1 Councilor Belinda Ray, was reviewed at a City Council workshop Monday, Dec. 11.

“We don’t believe it is necessary,” Levine said, adding it would be helpful as staff completes an of audit R-6 zoning rules, amended in 2015 to encourage residential development. The zone is used in neighborhoods throughout the peninsula, including on the West End and Libbytown, but on Munjoy Hill it has led to at least 12 demolitions of existing homes for new structures.

Data supplied by Planning Department staff says development has added 29 housing units to the neighborhood. But residents, including Maggy Wolf and Paula Agopian, say the new housing is pricing people out of the neighborhood.

Agopian, vice president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association, has been working on her own to create an area conservation zone. On Monday, MHNO President Jay Norris said the organization supports the moratorium proposal.

Levine said the city could consider creating historic preservation zones like those on the West End, or a conservation district that could take a more customized approach to redevelopment. But he remained skeptical about the effectiveness.

“I don’t think the issue of gentrification has anything to do with what we are discussing tonight,” Levine said. “The market is going to do what it is going to do, and Munjoy Hill is an attractive place to live.”

The 180-day moratorium would be retroactive to Dec. 4. Ray said she will amend it so the city could still approve demolition permits for buildings that are public safety hazards.

During the moratorium, city staff would be prohibited from acting on site plans in the zone for 45 days. In that time, new interim design standards would have to be developed to cover the remainder of the moratorium term. Those standards would have to be before the Council by Jan. 17.

The city will also have to justify the need for the moratorium to the state, said Jenn Thompson of the city corporation counsel’s office.

Councilors were concerned about how many people would be affected by the moratorium and how much meeting the new standards might cost them. Levine said it will be up to them to determine if a moratorium is needed to prevent demolitions.

Levine noted owners of a multi-family home at 25 Monument St. had applied for a demolition permit in May, although the building still stands.

Jeff Kane, who bought the 1890s-era home in January, said last month his plans to tear it down and build a four-story, five-unit home is in part a plan for a new home for him and his wife.

“We view reconstruction as a retirement home and an improvement to the lot,” he said.

Kane and 24 St. Lawrence St. residents Walter and Kelly Williams have objected to being cast as out-of-state developers looking to cash in on the neighborhood with their redevelopment plans.

The Williamses have lived at the two-family home on St. Lawrence St. for 14 years, Kelly said last month. They also plan to build a four-story, five-unit home on the site of their home, built in 1860.

Agopian and Wolf said last month those plans are typical of tearing down homes and replacing them with new ones that do not fit neighborhood styles or scope.

A year ago, Ray successfully moved forward a moratorium on development along Sheridan Street at the base of Fort Sumner Park. Developers had planned a condominium project that encroached on the panoramic park view across northern and western Portland and beyond.

Ultimately, zoning amendments revised building height limits in a radius of 200 feet from the park, and a condominium site plan was approved by the Planning Board. Construction will require tearing down a single-family home at 165 Sheridan St.

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

The shaded area shows where a 180-day moratorium on demolition permits would affect 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.