Portland proposes Munjoy Hill historic district

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PORTLAND — Portions of the historic overlay area on Munjoy Hill could soon become a designated historic district.

The new zoning plan was revealed Tuesday evening in a community meeting at East End School.

“In the materials from last year we had suggested there might be two separate districts. As the work progressed we decided to recommend one district that connects,” Planning & Urban Development Director Jeff Levine said Tuesday.

The proposed zone, which would require a Planning Board recommendation and a full City Council vote to be created, would add a layer of oversight to development in the affected areas by requiring the city or its Historic Preservation Board to approve development or some alterations affecting the street frontage of buildings considered contributors to the neighborhood’s history.

In prior discussions about historic designations in the city, most recently along Forest Avenue, Historic Preservation Program Manager Deb Andrews has noted as much as 85% of the applications for alterations in a historic zone are handled administratively, without HPB involvement.

Development site plans are then reviewed by the Planning Board, although smaller alterations are not.

If approved, the new historic district would be the 12th in the city. There are five historic landmarks designated on Munjoy Hill, and portions of the former Portland Co. at 58 Fore St. are also designated landmarks.

The proposed historic district largely includes the areas south of Congress Street, and on either side of North Street from Congress to Walnut streets.

On the south side of Congress Street, the district extends along Munjoy Street to Fore Street and east to the Eastern Promenade – but also excludes some sections – then shifts to include areas as far west as Kellogg Street.

Within the entire proposed district, there are 12 undeveloped parcels. More than 40 structures are considered non-contributing because of the level of alterations already made to the structures, and 15 sites are considered non-contributing because of the dates they were constructed.

The concept of a historic district was discussed last year as the overlay zone was being created. The overlay zone emanated from a 180-day moratorium on tearing down buildings on Munjoy Hill not considered a public safety hazard. It was passed by councilors in December 2017.

Julie Larry of Greater Portland Landmarks noted at meetings last year that the Munjoy Hill neighborhood evolved in distinct eras as Portland grew in the 19th century.

Homes on Waterville, St. Lawrence and Atlantic streets extending up from Fore Street are approaching 170 years old, built as the Portland Co. developed. Homes on North Street are of the same era, built as Portland was better linked to East Deering via Tukey’s Bridge.

The larger homes along Eastern Promenade date to the 1890s, built after land owned by the Deering family was parceled out for development.

The larger overlay zone for the residential areas east of Washington Avenue and Mountfort Street already adds a waiting period of as long as 12 months on tearing down buildings constructed before 1930 and considered integral to the “historic visual character of Munjoy Hill,” according to the zoning text.

Within that waiting period, applicants can undergo alternative design review with the Historic Preservation Board for new projects that replace demolished buildings.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The existing overlay zone on Portland’s Munjoy Hill, left, and a historic preservation district proposed inside the overlay.

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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.