Value of Portland Co. drawings depends on perspective

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PORTLAND — Potential developers of the Portland Co. complex at 58 Fore St. said concept drawings introduced at an Aug. 26 press conference were revealing.

Opponents who want to limit building heights on the property criticized what the drawings did not include.

“We are celebrating public open space that allows access to the waterfront,” CPB2 partner Jim Brady said as he introduced the watercolor sketches by artist C. Michael Lewis.

But in a press release later that day, Save the Soul of Portland spokeswoman Anne Rand said “we would like to see details for the entire site, including roadways and clusters of buildings and heights. The city should have required this information as part of the rezoning application.” 

Brady and his partners, Casey Prentice and Kevin Costello, bought the 10-acre property from businessman Phineas Sprague Jr. two years ago. In June, the City Council approved zoning changes that could allow the former industrial site to become a mixed-use development.

“We continued to go back to the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan,” Brady said of the concept plans for the former St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad foundry.

Rand and Save the Soul of Portland members successfully placed a citizen’s initiative on the Nov. 3 ballot that would amend the zoning to require new construction on a portion of the property to be measured from flood-plain levels, instead of according to the average median grade.

The sides disagree on which measurement was intended to be part of the master plan adopted about 10 years ago. The difference in measurements affects how tall new construction could rise above Fore Street as it ascends toward the Eastern Promenade.

At flood plain, the buildings would be at grade level to Fore Street. Using average grade levels, the buildings could be as tall as 35 feet above Fore Street.

With vintage photos of a locomotive parked outside Building No. 2, and a sketch showing a planned plaza in front of the building, Brady said the public can now see how historic integrity and public access will merge in the phased project.

Rand said there’s nothing in the proposed referendum that would prevent the developer from building what he outlined.

“The issue is with the rest of the development that is being kept secret and the impact those plans will have on the area,” she said. “Without formally submitting these drawings to the city’s planning process, they are just pretty campaign pictures.”

The referendum also calls for creation of a task force to inventory scenic viewpoints and possibly create zoning protections for them, and to require developers seeking zoning changes to present more detailed plans for future land use.

Brady said more detailed plans for new construction are contingent on the result of the referendum vote, as well as the potential designation of the property as a city historic protection zone.

The Planning Board will make its recommendation on placing a portion of the site into a protection zone Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m. A favorable recommendation will be forwarded to the City Council for a vote at a future date.

The zone would not include areas of possible new construction, but would play a role in planning, Costello and Brady said.

“Until those two pieces of the puzzle are put together, it is virtually impossible to speculate,” Brady said when asked about providing more details.

Regarding the existing buildings, Brady said developers have rejected using them only for office space because of parking demands. He said he is optimistic the housing market will remain strong enough that new construction will be largely for residential use.

Costello said it is possible more sketches could be made available before Nov. 3, but determining how existing buildings will be used is critical.

“It is important to figure out the western end to determine how the eastern end will be used,” he said.

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

A sketch presented Aug. 26 by CPB2 shows the potential redevelopment of the Portland Co. complex at 58 Fore St. “We are celebrating public open space that allows access to the water,” CBP2 partner Jim Brady said.This area in front of Portland Co. Building No. 2 is envisioned by developers as a public plaza extending to the waterfront at 58 Fore St.

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.