Portland pier owners offer concessions on waterfront zoning

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PORTLAND — Review of proposed waterfront zoning changes is expected to continue later this month, with several amendments aimed at making city officials and lobstermen more comfortable with pier owners’ requests.

A group of 11 pier owners have dropped their request to allow 50 more feet of non-commercial boat dockage along the piers. They have also reduced their requested allowance for non-marine tenants in ground-floor space from 50 percent of square footage to 45 percent.

“We met with the lobstermen – four of them – and they brought their negotiating points,” said Steve DiMillo, owner of Long Wharf. “We compromised in a good way.”

More than 70 fishermen signed a petition in July asking the city to reject the additional 50 feet of pleasure-boat dockage, fearing it could push their boats out.

The petition came after a long Planning Board process recommended that the City Council endorse relaxed zoning in the central waterfront. Before the petition, commercial fishermen had been mostly silent.

DiMillo said the lobstermen at the recent meeting were also concerned about the pier owners’ request to allow up to 50 percent non-marine uses on pier surfaces and in ground-floor spaces in buildings.

In addition to dropping the request to 45 percent, he said, the pier owners have agreed to advertise any space that becomes available as marine space for at least 60 days before considering non-marine tenants. If the space is leased by a non-marine tenant and that tenant leaves, the pier owner would again have to offer it only to marine tenants for 60 days.

“And we’ve all agreed to non-displacement language,” DiMillo said, meaning there will be guarantees in the regulations that will prevent pier owners from removing marine tenants in favor of retailers, offices or restaurants.

Union Wharf owner Charlie Poole, who along with DiMillo and Dick Ingalls has acted as a leader of the wharf owners group, said the changes to the original proposal will be brought to the city in the form of proposed amendments.

Wharf owners in December 2008 asked the city to allow more non-marine businesses in the Waterfront Central Zone. The property owners said a decline in the groundfishing industry over the last decade means they can’t generate the revenue they used to, and as a result they can’t afford maintenance – some to the point of disrepair.

The Waterfront Central Zone has strict regulations to protect the “working waterfront.” And while critics agree some piers need repairs, they want guarantees that money raised through non-marine development along Commercial Street will go toward maintenance of the waterfront.

The proposed zoning changes include allowing non-marine development along Commercial Street, extending as much as 150 feet back toward the water. Poole said that while the amendment language still needs to be fleshed out, the wharf owners will propose that 5 percent of the value of new development along Commercial Street be put into maintenance of a wharf that the property is attached to.

The City Council Community Development Committee is scheduled to meet Sept. 15 to continue its deliberation of the Waterfront Central Zone. Bill Needelman, the city planner assigned to the proposal, said the city has not received any written requests for changes, but has met with the pier owners and expects to get those proposed amendments prior to the Sept. 15 meeting.

Any zoning changes ultimately have to be approved by the City Council. Poole said this week that he hopes that will happen by the end of October.

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