Portland pier owners drop bid to add recreational dock space

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PORTLAND — Reacting to a late-in-the-game outcry from fishermen, a group of wharf owners hoping to change the city’s rules for waterfront use are dropping a request for increased space for non-commercial ship berths.

“We dropped the 50-foot request because it was clouding the overall intent of the zoning requested changes,” Richard Ingalls, a representative of the waterfront property owners, said in an e-mail this week.

The wharf owners contend zoning in the Waterfront Central Zone is too restrictive, particularly a prohibition against non-marine uses on the first floor of buildings on piers and regulations limiting development of non-marine businesses along Commercial Street.

The property owners contend that allowing more non-marine use on the waterfront will allow them to raise more revenue and pay for often costly maintenance and repairs to piers. The current restrictions have been in place since the late 1980s, and since then the fishing industry in Portland has dramatically declined.

In July, following more than a dozen meetings on the subject, the Planning Board sent recommendations to the City Council that included allowing up to 50 percent non-marine use on the first floor of buildings, allowing non-marine development within 150 feet of Commercial Street and allowing up to 50 feet of non-commercial vessel berthing along piers.

Shortly after the Planning Board decision, more than 70 fishermen and lobstermen, many of them boat owners, signed a petition urging the city not to approve the 50-foot docking request.

“There is a shortage of commercial berthing and any ‘sharing’ 0f existing berthing is a very real threat to the continuing economic viability of the working waterfront,” their letter said.

Ingalls said this week that the property owners are making every effort to allay the fears of fishermen. He said the property owners want to make sure those who have not followed the rezoning process until recently understand that the proposed changes are meant to assist pier owners in maintaining their properties.

Ingalls said they want to assure fishermen that the current rates they pay will not be affected.

The property owners are also planning to hold an informational meeting for fishermen. Specifics on that meeting were not available.

The city’s Community Development Committee, meanwhile, is expected to have another go at the proposed changes Aug. 25 at 5 p.m. at City Hall. The committee met Aug. 11 to discuss the proposal and decided it needed more time. That decision led the City Council, which was scheduled to vote on the changes this week, to delay its vote until Sept. 20.

City Councilor John Anton, a member of the CDC, said although the dock issue has been taken off the table, there are still several other things unresolved.

“The biggest is the relaxation of marine restrictions on finger piers,” said Anton, referring to a proposed allowance of up to 50 percent non-marine use.

Anton said he thought the bulk of development opportunity in the zone is along Commercial Street and not out on the piers.

Ingalls said the property owners are now awaiting the outcome of the review by the CDC.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net