Portland planners present Munjoy Hill preservation rules

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PORTLAND — Munjoy Hill could become a conservation zone with tighter building and demolition regulations.

Rules for a new Conservation Overlay District covering the current R-6 zoning designation for much of the neighborhood was reviewed Tuesday at a Planning Board workshop.

As described in an April 6 memo to the Planning Board from Senior Planner Christine Grimando, the overlay district would incorporate elements of current temporary zoning in place until June 5.

The rules would limit new building heights to 35 feet for housing with two or fewer units, and to 45 feet for buildings with three or more units. Those height restrictions apply to “rooftop appurtenances,” or mechanical systems.

Buildings higher than 35 feet would also require at least 20 feet total of setbacks from side property lines.

The new conservation district proposes to allow a height exemption to 45 feet for buildings with a least one affordable housing unit for sale or rent. The height allowances apply to lots of at least 2,000 square feet. Mechanical systems utilizing alternative energy could also exceed the height limits.

The new overlay zone would also add standards for the demolition of existing structures. There has been a moratorium on granting demolition permits in the present R-6 since Dec. 4, 2017. The moratorium expires concurrently with the temporary zoning in place.

New rules would create an 18-month stay on demolitions to consider alternatives to tearing down structures for new construction. Within the R-6 zone on Munjoy Hill, a city review found at least 13 buildings had been torn down since zoning was revised in 2015.

The resulting new construction added more housing to the neighborhood, but none considered affordable by area median income guidelines.

The new demolition standards would not apply to landmarks and buildings already governed by designated historic zoning rules, buildings constructed after 1930 or accessory buildings of 144 square feet or less. Buildings deemed a public safety hazard would also be exempt from the new rules.

Grimando noted the demolition standards are now included as amendments to Chapter 14 of the city code governing zoning, but could be shifted to Chapter 6, which governs building codes.

The city is also working to completely revise its zoning codes with the “Recode Portland” project.

The rules presented in the workshop do not encompass creating a wider historic protection zone, as was done with a portion of the 10 acres encompassing the former Portland Co. site at 58 Fore St.

Grimando noted city staff is continuing to work with neighborhood residents and staff from Greater Portland Landmarks on whether a wider district could be created.

The city’s West End is designated as a historic district, giving the city’s Historic Preservation Board oversight into land use and planning along with the Planning Board.

At a March 22 neighborhood forum at East End School, city Historic Preservation Program Director Deb Andrews noted city staff actually handles the bulk of applications for work in the district before it reaches the Historic Preservation Board.

Following the workshop, a public hearing will be scheduled, followed by Planning Board members making a recommendation on new zoning to the City Council.

The hearing is not on the Planning Board’s April 17 agenda. 

Any zoning revisions must be approved by councilors, following a public hearing.

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

The shaded area is an R-6 zone that could become a conservation district on 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.