Portland Planning Board to hold hearing on Fort Sumner Park zoning

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PORTLAND — Zoning protection for an iconic Munjoy Hill view will be open to public comment at the Tuesday, Jan. 24 Planning Board meeting in City Hall.

The hearing on preserving Fort Sumner Park views is scheduled to be the second part of the board’s evening session, beginning at 7 p.m.

In the afternoon session beginning at 4:30 p.m., board members will again consider a zoning change that could increase building heights along the Fore River on West Commercial Street.

No action will be taken on the waterfront zoning change proposed by the city.

Action is expected on the amendment to R-6 zoning specifically drafted to ensure views from Fort Sumner Park are not encroached by new construction. Fort Sumner Park extends from North Street to a point overlooking Sheridan Street, and offers views across the north and west of the city and beyond.

“Planning and Parks & Recreation (departments) did a good job of looking at other cities and seeing what we need to do here. I think this will do a good job,” Councilor Belinda Ray said Jan. 12 about the changes.

The zoning amendment, first reviewed at a Jan. 10 Planning Board workshop, would prohibit any construction from being taller than the apex view point in the park. The overlay zone would cover a radius of 200 feet, and require reduced building heights of a foot for every 25 feet extending from the baseline.

In reality, the changes would affect land adjacent north of the park from 153-165 Sheridan St., and a portion of land across the street. Recent construction adjacent to the south of the park and across the street has not impacted the views.

Ray sought the development moratorium in order to consider zoning amendments after developers presented preliminary plans to build a six-story, 34-unit condominium complex.

Building heights in the R-6 zone are capped at 45 feet, which is four stories, but the measurement governing the allowable height is made by calculating the average grade of a parcel. The 153-165 Sheridan St. land, now owned by Westbrook-based McCartney Family LLC, rises significantly from street level and the measurement used would allow for a greater building height.

Bernard Saulnier, who has built subdivisions in Saco and Old Orchard Beach, said in August 2016 he is an intermediary for the Quincy, Massachusetts,-based Vazza Group. The developers have scaled back plans, which were never fielded with the city, after neighborhood meetings.

In November, local attorney Patrick Venne, who has worked with Saulnier, said developers no longer intend to block any portion of the view from the park.

After the Planning Board makes its recommendation, the zoning amendment is expected to be part of the Feb. 6 City Council agenda as a first read. That is the day the 90-day moratorium on development expires.

Ray said she will not seek to enact any new zoning as an emergency measure, but will move to make the changes retroactive to Feb. 6. A public hearing and council vote are expected for Feb. 22.

‘Cold’ shoulder

The earlier workshop on building heights on West Commercial Street is a renewed attempt by the city to craft changes to allow a taller cold storage warehouse for shipping containers as part of the $25 million expansion of the International Marine Terminal.

The terminal has been primarily used by the Icelandic freight handlers Eimskip since 2013. The state has already expanded the area by adding rail lines and improved truck access, and city Waterfront Coordinator Bill Needelman and Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell have proposed increasing the allowable building heights beyond 45 feet throughout the Waterfront Port Development Zone.

In August 2016, the state selected Americold Logistics, which already operates a warehouse on Read Street, to construct the warehouse near the Casco Bay Bridge. Americold has provided two plans to build a warehouse at the presently allowed 45 feet, but also said it prefers a taller building.

Some neighbors don’t, and have objected to any blanket zoning change in meetings held last fall.

Last month, Needelman was preparing a Planning Board presentation allowing an absolute maximum building height of 70 feet, which would include the rooftop mechanical systems.

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

A Planning Board public hearing on zoning changes to preserve views from Fort Sumner Park, seen Jan. 16, will be held Jan. 24.

Portland officials demonstrate the potential effect of taller buildings on West Commercial Street by extending two cranes to a height of 70 feet on Dec. 5, 2016.

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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.