Portland Planning Board gets India Street zoning changes

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PORTLAND — Two recommendations that could shape the future of the India Street neighborhood will go to the Planning Board Sept. 15.

The first item seeks a board recommendation on “form-based” zoning for the neighborhood, to ensure a level of conformity between new and existing construction.

The second item would create a historic preservation district for a portion of the neighborhood.

Both actions ultimately require City Council approval. On Sept. 2, the city Historic Preservation Board unanimously recommended forwarding the preservation district to the Planning Board.

The historic preservation zone was reduced in scope and size, and would include about 10 blocks of the 19-block area bordered by Franklin, Congress, Mountfort and Commercial streets, and extending to the section of Cumberland Avenue containing the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

A total of 49 buildings would be affected by the designation, with 36 of them considered “contributing” to neighborhood history. Buildings considered contributing to the history of the zone would be subject to planning oversight by the Historic Preservation and Planning boards.

“It focuses on major corridors that served the neighborhood,” city Historic Preservation Manager Deb Andrews said Sept. 3. “It is a meaningful representation of what was really a self-contained neighborhood.”

The Historic Preservation Board also recommended an individual landmark designation for the Abraham Levey Block at 78-88 Middle St., outside the proposed preservation district.

The building, which extends to the corner of Franklin Street, is occupied by Hugo’s and Eventide Oyster Co., among others. Designed by architect John Calvin Stevens, it is essential to the neighborhood character, Andrews said.

“It really gives a sense you have entered a historic area,” Andrews said.

Inside the proposed zone, individual landmark status is recommended for the former India Street Fire Station at 97 India St., St. Peter’s Catholic Church at 72 Federal St., the former Etz Chaim Synagogue (now home to the Maine Jewish Museum) at 267 Congress St., and the former Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue at 145 Newbury St.

The zone will not include the former Abyssinian Meeting House at 73 Newbury St., which is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The form-based zoning that could govern development throughout the neighborhood will have varied standards for neighborhood streets and their uses.

Within the proposed historic preservation district, the Historic Preservation Board will have input only on adding heights to existing buildings as part of the form-based zoning.

The zoning concepts were a part of the recommendations by the India Street Neighborhood Advisory Committee.

Cited as the oldest street in the city, India Street and surrounding blocks have been noted by Andrews and a report from city-based TTL Architects as a veritable melting pot of races, ethnicities and uses in the history of Portland’s settlement and growth.

As Andrews noted in her report on the historic preservation zone designation, much of the city’s African American population settled in the neighborhood in the 19th century, joining immigrants from Europe. The Abyssinian Meeting House was built in 1828.

Much of the neighborhood was destroyed in a July 4, 1866, fire. The buildings within the proposed historic zone were generally constructed from 1866 to 1920.

Andrews noted the proposed zone does not encompass the neighborhood’s entire history.

“It is important to note that the district as composed does not tell the whole story,” she said. “The vernacular blocks are part of the story.”

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

The Abraham Levey Block at 78-88 Middle St. in Portland is recommended for a landmark zoning designation. “It really gives a sense you have entered a historic area,” city Historic Preservation Manager Deb Andrews said.

A historic preservation zone for the India Street neighborhood “focuses on major corridors that served the neighborhood, according to city Historic Preservation Manager Deb Andrews.

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.