Portland waterfront zoning gets Planning Board review

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PORTLAND — More restrictive zoning proposed for Commercial Street will have its first Planning Board review Tuesday, April 23.

The zoning revisions in the Waterfront Central Zone, a product of the ongoing Waterfront Working Group meetings, would replace the present Non-Marine Use Overlay Zone created in 2010 with a Commercial Street Overlay Zone.

The new overlay zone would extend 125 feet back on the water side of Commercial Street, remain at 125 feet for Union and Fisherman’s wharves, and extend to 300 feet on Long Wharf, which is home to DiMillo’s on the Water and a DiMillo yacht sales business.

The present, more flexible overlay depth is 150 feet along the street, and 500 feet on Long, Fisherman’s and Union wharves.

Pier owners Steve DiMillo, Charlie Poole and Mike Alfiero, a part of the Waterfront Working Group, oppose changing the existing overlay zone.

The zoning revisions are expected to face a Planning Board hearing and recommendation on May 14. A non-binding recommendation would be forwarded to the City Council, which needs to approve the zoning revisions. A first reading could be held May 20, with a public hearing and vote June 3.

A 180-day moratorium on development within the Waterfront Central Zone expires June 15.

The new overlay area is notable for what it no longer allows, beginning with any chance of conditional or contract zoning for land uses that are otherwise prohibited.

Property owners can now seek conditional zoning for a variety of uses. An application for a zoning allowance for a 93-room luxury hotel on Fishermen’s Wharf was a catalyst for the ongoing rezoning process.

The hotel was specifically cited as the cause for a proposed referendum to completely eliminate the overlay zone. The petition drive for the referendum was halted as a result of the moratorium and Waterfront Working Group creation.

On April 17, David Bateman, who sought the zoning for the hotel with his son, Nathan, objected to zoning changes in a letter to City Manager Jon Jennings.

The Batemans withdrew their zoning request in January, and said they are confident Poole, Alfiero and DiMillo have represented their interests well in Waterfront Working Group meetings.

“I am acutely disappointed that rather than exploring creative and concrete solutions to mitigate problems like vehicular traffic, poor signalization and an irrational system of pedestrian crosswalks on Commercial Street, the WWG has been focused elsewhere,” Bateman said.

Bateman added he has not seen evidence fishermen are being “squeezed out” of the waterfront area, and said zoning revisions do not take into account the overall benefit for city taxpayers coming from mixed use development.

The new overlay would specifically permit uses including restaurants, retail, museums, galleries, street vendors, and banking along Commercial Street. Those uses exist now because they were in place prior to the 1987 creation of the Waterfront Central Zone.

Outside the overlay zone, where 55% of first-floor uses must be dedicated to marine use, the zoning revisions would triple the requirement to market vacant spaces before non-marine use is allowed, to 180 days. Restaurants and non-marine retail would not be allowed in future development outside the overlay zone.

Within performance standards guiding new developments, applicants would have to include an Operations and Access Management Plan “so that access to berthed vessels and marine uses is accounted for,” according to an April 11 city summary of the new zoning.

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

A zoning proposal to revise an overlay area in the Waterfront Central Zone along Portland’s Commercial Street is before the Planning Board.

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