Portland zoning question heads back to council, amid debate over building heights, waterfront views

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

PORTLAND — Height is the root of a dispute about zoning needed to redevelop the Portland Co. complex at 58 Fore St.

CPB2, the development company owned by Jim Brady, Casey Prentice and Kevin Costello, is seeking two zoning changes for 10 acres of property and additional submerged land in Portland harbor.

The City Council will vote on the requested changes June 1.

A new neighborhood group, Save the Soul of Portland, has organized to fight the zoning request. It says the plans are too vague, and building heights sought in the request will block the view of the harbor now treasured by city visitors and residents.

Save the Soul of Portland members said the zoning request would give CPB2 a “blank check” to permanently mar the expansive waterfront views – a claim Brady disputes.

“The number of guidelines, restrictions and ordinances are possibly the most restrictive in the city,” Brady said May 21 about the project and zoning request.

But former state legislator and Munjoy Hill resident Anne Rand, spokeswoman for Save the Soul of Portland, didn’t back down. “You can say anything,” said. “They have nothing in writing.”

Brady, meanwhile, criticized a May 19 Save the Soul of Portland press release that claims widespread support for protecting waterfront views. He took issue with the way the question was worded by Raleigh, North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling.

The poll said, in part, “At the developer’s request, the City Council is considering a change in the zoning to allow buildings three stories higher than the six stories now allowed.”

Brady called it “misleading and or inaccurate.”

“We have been trying to follow the very lengthy and rigorous public process that created the master plan and height study,” he said. “We have not asked for anything in addition to that.”

Save the Soul of Portland member Barbara Vestal defended the question as it was phrased. She said it gets to the question of how building heights in the zone could be measured.

“It is not factually misleading,” she said May 21.”In 2004, the policy made was 65 feet measured from floodplain. The effect of asking to delete that requirement for heights east of Mountfort Street is it would enable them to build up to 35 feet above the slope adjacent to Fore Street.”

But the pertinent portion of the question also gave Rand pause on May 20 when she was asked to read it.

“I don’t get it, this is not the question I saw. This is very poorly written,” she said.

Rand backtracked on May 21, when she was joined by Vestal and group member Nini McManamy, and agreed with Vestal’s assessment.

“It was never meant to scare people,” Rand said.

An illustration of the building heights allowed in the zone provided by Portland Planning and Urban Development Director Jeff Levine caps building heights at 65 feet, as opposed to 65 feet built on top of any existing structure.

The key is whether heights will be measured at the average median grade of the property, which rises from near water level to about 80 feet along the upper edge of Fore Street, or from the floodplain.

The floodplain measurement, Save the Soul of Portland members insist, was the City Council’s intent more than a dozen years ago when the height study was incorporated into a master plan that became part of the city Comprehensive Plan.

Building heights measured at floodplain would prevent development from exceeding the street level as Fore Street ascends to the Eastern Promenade.

Street-level development is impractical and unworkable, developers have said, and the zoning text will require them to shift anything 35 feet above street level.

Rand disagreed, calling the claim “a scare tactic.”

Vestal summarized the group’s goal: “The line in the sand is not going above Fore Street,” she said.

The Portland Co. complex dates to the 1840s, and was home to railroad maintenance and manufacturing, and had an operating foundry until about 35 years ago, according to a historical study commissioned by the city.

Prentice said in April the partners hope to preserve at least eight of 12 structures, which are in varied conditions, according to separate reports commissioned by the city and developers.

Group members hope to make the zoning fight a larger question with a Nov. 3 referendum on ordinance changes that would require developers seeking zoning changes to provide more detail of their intentions.

The group has submitted text now under review by the city corporation counsel’s office. Rand and Vestal said the referendum would also create a task force to inventory and assess city “scenic” views that could be harmed by future development.

The June 1 council vote will come almost two months after councilors postponed a vote on the zoning because the state certification of the Comprehensive Plan had expired.

On May 21, Levine said recertification might not come until the end of the year, but he has been reassured the council could move forward.

“We spoke to staff at the state’s Municipal Assistance Program and they advised us that not having an active certification did not mean that we could not move ahead with various planning and zoning activities,” he said.

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

Sidebar Elements

Save the Soul of Portland spokeswoman Anne Rand said May 20 that any development that would block harbor views is unacceptable. Her group opposes a zoning change requested by owners of the Portland Co. complex on Fore Street.

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.