Portland takes waterfront inventory after state OKs new rules

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PORTLAND — City officials are taking a waterfront inventory to help monitor anticipated changes now that the state has approved zoning amendments adopted last December by the City Council. 

The Maine Department of Environment Protection last week signed off on changes to Portland’s Waterfront Zone, which runs from west of the Maine State Pier to east of the Portland International Terminal.

The changes establish a Non-Marine Use Overlay Zone for new non-marine developments, with the exception of residences, within 150 feet of Commercial Street. It would expand permitted uses to include restaurants and retail stores.

Outside of the overlay zone, pier owners would be able to lease up to 45 percent of their first-floor space to non-marine uses, but only after aggressively and unsuccessfully marketing that space to marine uses.

Portland Senior Planner William Needelman said in an email the city continues to focus on the waterfront zone by creating an inventory of uses and properties. That inventory will be posted on the city’s website, he said.

“The city’s work is not ending with this approval,” Needelman said. “This baseline (inventory) will allow ongoing monitoring of changes in the zone for reporting to the City Council.”

Needelman said there are no development plans pending for the zone.

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones said the approval vindicated the lengthy process undertaken by the city that involved pier owners, fisherman, regulators and city staff.

“While we may each have had our own oar, we all agreed to pull in the same direction,” Mavodones said in a written statement.

Approval from the state was needed for any changes in shoreland zoning to take effect.

The changes were originally opposed by officials in the DEP and Maine Department of Marine Resources, but not because of any environmental reasons. Instead, officials were concerned about the impact on commercial fishing.

But DEP Spokeswoman Samantha Depoy-Warren said those concerns were eased by the city’s 269-page justification, which downplayed the city’s fishing heritage, and a site walk along the waterfront.

Depoy-Warren said both the former DEP Commissioner Darryl Brown and Acting Commissioner Jim Brooks felt as though preference was being given to commercial fishing uses.

DePoy-Warren noted that all but 50 feet of berthing and 55 percent of first floor building space at each pier is reserved for commercial marine use.

During that site walk, DePoy-Warren said it was clear that pier owners needed more flexibility in finding tenants for vacant pier space to generate revenue for pier repairs.

“If these improvements are not made, these piers are going to fall into the ocean,” she said. “And then the fishermen and other marine commercial entities are not going to have a place to tie up their boats or have floor space.”

The new waterfront rules would require at least a 5 percent investment into marine infrastructure for new projects or changes of use exceeding $250,000 within the Non-Marine Use Overlay Zone. The 5 percent would be applied only to the costs above $250,000.

That investment may either be made directly by the developer or through a financial contribution to the city’s waterfront loan and investment account.

According to the ordinance, investments may include dredging, pile replacement, new or replaced structural decking (but not pavement resurfacing), new or replaced fendering systems, new or replaced floats, pier expansions, permanent conversions of recreational berthing to commercial berthing, bulkhead or seawall repair or improvements, or any combination of similar improvements.

“For more than 20 years, Portland has strived to strike the right balance between protecting the character defining maritime uses that we love with other development that increasingly characterize the city’s new economy,” Mavodones said. “It goes without saying that we are proud of the city’s waterfront and the local policies that support it.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.

This article was updated on May 10 to correct the name of the acting commissioner of the Maine DEP.