West End residents resistant to waterfront warehouse

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PORTLAND — The question of how a cold storage warehouse fits into the city’s western waterfront is heating up again with two public meetings scheduled for next week.

On Tuesday, May 16, the Waterfront Alliance will host a 4 p.m. information session on zoning in the Waterfront Port Development Zone at Mariner’s Church, 368 Fore St.

On Thursday, May 18, the Planning Board will host a 5:30 p.m. site walk along West Commercial Street, followed by a 7 p.m. workshop on zoning changes proposed by the city.

City Waterfront Coordinator Bill Needelman said Monday the new zoning affects the area between West Commercial Street and Fore River from the International Marine Terminal all the way west to Cassidy Point, but it is the proposed warehouse that has gotten a cold shoulder from some West End residents.

As part of the expansion of the terminal, the state sought bids to build a cold storage warehouse to handle container freight, largely by Icelandic shippers Eimskip. In August 2015, Americold Logistics was awarded the bid.

Jo Coyne, a West End resident who has opposed city efforts to revise zoning to allow greater building heights, said May 4 she and others remain concerned about the height of the proposed warehouse, the effects of increased traffic, and whether Americold needs as much space as preliminary plans indicate.

Needelman said city staff is now drafting new zoning language he expects will be ready for the May 16 informational session that will address worries about the warehouse and the entire stretch of West Commercial Street while also helping boost the area’s economic development.

The city has already proposed capping building heights at 70 feet for conditional uses, including rooftop mechanical systems. Needelman says more revisions would cap lot coverage for buildings taller than 50 feet and limit the number of buildings that could exceed the base heights as conditional uses.

Tom Meyers of the nonprofit Waterfront Alliance, which has sought to boost economic development along the city and South Portland waterfronts for 35 years, said Monday the information session is designed to show new findings while allowing the public to ask a panel about development and zoning.

After a two-hour open house, the panel will begin answering questions at 6:30 p.m. Expected to be in attendance are Needelman; city urban designer Caitlin Cameron; Maine Port Authority Executive Director John Henshaw;  Patrick Arnold, who directs operations and business development for the MPA at the terminal; Maine Department of Transportation Traffic Engineer Steve Landry; and consultant Jim Damicis, who complied a market analysis for the city’s Economic Development Department.

The Planning Board has held two workshops on zoning. Needelman said he hopes the new draft will be suitable for a public hearing following the May 18 workshop.

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.