Portland discussions focus on Munjoy Hill land use

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PORTLAND — What to build, where to build and how to build on Munjoy Hill came into renewed focus over the last week.

The Planning Board on Tuesday considered two plans for housing in workshops and voted on a third plan to build a four-story mix of retail and office space at 147-155 Washington Avenue.

On March 24, city Planning Director Jeff Levine outlined potential new zoning that could encourage more conforming standards and reduce the occasions when older buildings are torn down and being replaced by new construction.

And On March 22, the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization hosted a community forum where Julie Larry of Greater Portland Landmarks outlined how a historic preservation district could be created in the neighborhood and what its standards would entail.

“A historic district is a potential tool … but there are certainly other ways to do that,” Larry said about conserving the neighborhood character and landmarks.

The GPL presentation noted the neighborhood actually grew in different decades in the 19th century, leading to a diversity of styles and uses for housing in the area.

Currently, there are five individually designated historic preservation sites in the neighborhood, including portions of the former Portland Co. complex at 58 Fore St.

GPL concluded 23 more would be eligible for the designation, with at least 91 also considered as contributing to the neighborhood history through their architecture.

The historic designation can be applied individually or on a wider area with approval by the City Council. In doing so, it gives the Historic Preservation Board oversight along with the Planning Board on certain kinds of work or demolition, based on how integral they are to the zone.

Larry and city Historic Preservation Program Manager Deb Andrews said the rules are not as onerous as have been portrayed, with street views the primary concern and allowances that do allow the use of items like vinyl siding.

Andrews said 70 percent of applications for work are handled by city staff, with the remainder by the HPB.

“Only a handful are denied,” Andrews said.

The potential historic district designation outlined by GPL conforms to a degree with what Levine said could be done; on Tuesday he said it is worth discussing.

Levine and his staff are now formulating permanent zoning standards for the R-6 portion of Munjoy Hill. Those need to be ready by June 4, when temporary design and setback standards expire. That is also when a moratorium on demolitions expires, but in Levine’s presentation on March 24, he said some regulation could still exist.

The city is looking at a conservation district in the neighborhood, which would also give it greater latitude on granting demolition permits needed to build new homes in the neighborhood.

A city audit of changes in R-6 zones, which exist in locations on the peninsula, showed 13 of 17 demolitions since 2015 occurred on Munjoy Hill. While more housing units have been added, none are considered affordable by area median income standards.

Levine said the new zoning would also bring back alternative design review standards, but only if approved by a city board as opposed to city staff.

The alternative standards and teardowns are also at the heart of objections to new housing plans at 24 St. Lawrence St. and 25 Monument St. Those plans were to be reviewed in Planning Board workshops Tuesday, with no vote on the site plans expected.

The two homes were exempted from the demolition ban passed by councilors in December, as the permit applications were filed before the Dec. 4, 2017, moratorium date.

Also on Tuesday, the Planning Board was expected to vote on a site plan to build a new four-story retail and office building at 147-155 Washington Ave. The site is now home to the Portland Gear Hub, and developers plan to leave the building as is while the new construction is placed in front of it.

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

The Portland Planning Board was expected to vote March 27 on a plan for commercial construction in front of Portland Gear Hub on Washington Avenue.

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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.