Waterfront zoning changes provoke little comment from Portland City Council

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PORTLAND — City Councilors had little to say Monday about proposed waterfront zoning amendments that could drastically change the “working waterfront.”

In December 2008, a group of 12 wharf owners whose properties are in the Waterfront Central Zone sent a letter to the city requesting relaxation of zoning regulations. Currently, marine uses are primarily the only uses allowed on wharves in the zone.

The property owners said that by allowing more non-marine uses on wharves and along Commercial Street, wharf owners could generate more revenue to help pay for pier maintenance and dredging.

The pier owners worked with city Planning Department staff on the proposed new zoning,  and in July the Planning Board voted to recommend to the council a series of zoning changes. The major changes include:

• Allowing up to 50 percent non-marine uses on the first floor of wharf buildings, where non-marine use is not now allowed.

• Allowing more non-marine development along Commercial Street within 150 feet of the street.

• And allowing more recreational boat berthing along piers in the zone.

Councilors were presented Monday with an overview of the proposed changes, along with data concerning the working waterfront. They had few questions about the proposal.

The council is set to vote on the proposed changes Aug. 16. But first, the Community Development Committee will review the zoning amendments Aug. 11 and make any changes it deems necessary.

City Councilor John Anton, who sits on the CDC, said he is opposed to allowing 50 percent non-marine use on first floors because there is nothing stopping landlords from evicting marine tenants to make way for non-marine tenants.

The current Waterfront Central Zone restrictions have been in place since the late 1980s, and are aimed at protecting the working waterfront.

Anton said he also opposes allowing more non-commercial berthing along piers. On July 16, the city received a letter signed by 70 commercial fishing vessel owners opposing that part of the zoning proposal.

The CDC meets Wednesday, Aug. 11, at 5 p.m. in Room 209 at City Hall.

The council meets Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]