Residents seek tougher zoning for Portland’s Munjoy Hill

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PORTLAND — Upset over redevelopment and gentrification, some Munjoy Hill residents are seeking new city zoning protections.

“We are concerned with maintaining character and fabric of our neighborhood,” Paula Agopian said Oct. 27 in her Monument Street home.

A 47-year neighborhood resident, Agopian is a former City Council candidate and currently vice president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association.

Agopian said she speaks for herself, not MHNO, when she wants to see the city create a conservation district. But she and St. Lawrence Street resident Maggy Wolf are enlisting others to add additional oversight to neighborhood redevelopment.

“I have met so many people who say ‘I grew up there and cannot afford to live there,’” Wolf said Oct. 27.

Both live near redevelopment projects that are headed to the city Planning Board – examples they say of harm being done to the neighborhood. Both are subjects of meetings this week between developers and neighborhood residents.

Wolf lives near 24 St. Lawrence St., an 1860 building with two single-family homes, owned by Kelly and Walter Williams. The couple has filed a site plan application with the city to tear down the building and replace it with a four-story building with five condominiums and parking for six vehicles on the ground level.

“I’m not opposed to the new building if it respects the neighborhood,” Wolf said. But she added that the size and scope of the plans are a poor fit with surrounding buildings.

Several blocks from Agopian’s home, a two-family home dating to 1894 at 25 Monument St. is slated to become a four-story, five-unit building. The property was bought in January by Monument Partners LLC of South Naples, Florida.

The meeting regarding 25 Monument St. will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1 at East End Community School, 195 North St. The meeting about 24 St. Lawrence St. will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2, at the same location.

In a cover letter to the city, Whipple Callendar Architects called the old building “dilapidated.” Agopian said the size and design of the new building is out of character with the street and surrounding homes.

“Classic triple-deckers are in the neighborhood, but they are not boxy, they have bays,” she said.

Wolf and Agopian said it is time to make it tougher to tear down the vintage homes and rebuild without consideration of surroundings, and said the construction of condominiums at 31 Fore St. shows how easily the plans can be approved.

The answer is not simply applying existing historic preservation regulations that exist in the city’s West End to Munjoy Hill, Agopian said.

Within historic districts, projects are vetted by the city’s Historic Preservation Board and Planning Boards. When Jonathan Culley built West End Place at Pine and Brackett streets, he said it required approval from both boards before he tore down two buildings he said were in bad shape.

A portion of the former Portland Co. complex at 58 Fore St. is now designated a historic protection zone.

Agopian said a conservation district can be created with a more customized approach and greater neighborhood input, and yet not be as restrictive as a historic protection zone.

“It is a land-use tool meant to preserve a neighborhood’s character,” she said.

Wolf and Agopian also said they would like more rehabilitation of older buildings instead of tearing down the neighborhood’s vintage homes, and tougher restrictions on demolitions.

“We have housing stock that survived the (Great Fire of 1866),” Wolf said, “and there is nothing that protects it.”

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

Paula Agopian objects to plans to tear down this 25 Monument St. home in Portland and replace it with a larger condominium building. She wants the city to create a conservation district for Munjoy Hill.

Owners of this two-family home at 24 St. Lawrence St. have filed an application to tear it down and build a four-story, five unit condominium building in its place.

The owners of 25 Monument St. provided this sketch with the application to build new condominiums.

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.