Temporary ban puts Munjoy Hill demolitions on hold in Portland

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PORTLAND — City councilors on Monday approved a moratorium that will temporarily prevent Munjoy Hill homes from being torn down.

The pause will give city staff time to evaluate zoning in the neighborhood.

“Thirteen demos in 30 months does not sound like a lot, but what you need to recognize is they have been speeding up,” Councilor Belinda Ray said. “Nine of those took place in the last 11 months, five since Aug. 1. … It is quite clear this is becoming a regular pattern.”

Ray, who represents Munjoy Hill as part of District 1, sponsored the 180-day ban on demolitions, but successfully amended her proposal to give city staff 65 days, instead of 45, to create interim design standards for the R-6 zone in the neighborhood.

“This is not very good for our staff’s sanity; they have other things to do,” she said of the more limited, 45-day window.

During the 65-day pause the city will not be allowed to act on site plans filed Dec. 4 or later. City Planning Director Jeff Levine said he expects staff to make recommendations based on R-6 audit results in April 2018. It is expected permanent revisions to R-6 zoning will be in place when the moratorium expires in early June 2018.

Demolition and site plan applications filed with the city before Dec. 4 will be considered under existing R-6 rules.

Councilors rejected an amendment by District 5 Councilor Kim Cook to have concurrent 90-day moratoriums on approving demolition permits and site plans to allow Planning Department staff time to revise design standards.

The most recent demolition of a home occurred last week at 9 Moody St. Ray said she is also concerned Munjoy Hill homes are being marketed for their tear-down potential.

What replaces them also concerned supporters of a moratorium and stricter design standards for replacement buildings.

“Even one huge box changes the streetscape for an entire street,” St. Lawrence Street resident Maggy Wolf said.

Wolf lives next to the 24 St. Lawrence St. home of Will and Kelly Williams, a two-family home dating to 1860 that is now a focal point in the debate over how the neighborhood can be redeveloped.

The Williamses said renovating the home will be too expensive and plan to tear it down and build a four-story, five-unit building. On Monday, Will Williams asked councilors to support Ray’s amendments, because the site plans they have filed comply with current zoning rules and new planning would be costly.

Wolf later countered his argument by noting residents who moved to Munjoy Hill before R-6 zoning was amended in 2015 expected certain sets of conditions found in the old rules.

Councilors amended R-6 rules in 2015 as a way to bring more housing to the peninsula. The changes included easing parking restrictions, increasing allowed density for residences, and reducing street frontage for development on smaller lots.

Wolf and Monument Street resident Paula Agopian said they also fear the new construction is pricing out residents and turning neighborhood housing into condominiums occupied by part-time residents.

Data supplied by Levine at a Dec. 8 council workshop showed 29 new housing units have been added to Munjoy Hill since R-6 revisions were made, and none would be considered affordable by area median income standards.

Jayne Hurley, who moved to a new building at 11 St. Lawrence St. two years ago, said her new home was on the same scale as the building it replaced, and called other new plans “jaw-dropping, buildings on steroids.”

Harry McMann, of Morning Street, said he was born on Munjoy Hill and when he wanted to move back, bought a home he had to tear down.

“It is something you do not know until you start taking the place apart,” he said. “Why wreak havoc with people’s lives?”

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

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.