By Carol McCracken (Post # 312)
Controversy and the waterfront are synonymous in the history of Portland’s coastline. Public access and private control are the primary issues that have divided the two communities and caused bitter struggles between the two. One can only hope that the latest proposal by a group of waterfront property owners – the Waterfront Central Zone – will not reopen old wounds that have dominated the discourse on the Hill in the recent past.
Dick Ingalls, former Portland Harbor Commissioner, represented a coalition of wharf owners, “WCZ” yesterday in its petition that would permit 50% of dockside space replace the 10% now permitted for mixed use; that 50% of ground floor space be changed to mixed use; that the current 100 ft. rule be replaced by 150 ft.; and that the mixed use allowances be relaxed to allow for more diversity on the waterfront; and that a more equitable method be devised to allow property owners to request other individual improvements. The owners are not advocating “for the return of residential/condominium development, but the requested changes are critical for the ability to continue to provide the City with well over a milltion dollars in real estate taxes and continued growth in jobs for the City of Portland,” said a letter dated October 10, 2009 from the owners to David Silk, Chair of the Planning Board.
Planning Board Vice Chair Bill Hall said: “The whole concept of the working waterfront is in jeopaardy. Is this concept the doom of the working waterfront? I do think that changes are needed here.” Chair Silk said to the owners: “You are asking us to do 2 things at once. The zoning has to be consistent with the city’s comphrensive plan. They are in conflict with each other here.”
Senior planner Bill Needelman recommended that the Planning Board conduct a walk-around on the waterfront before the next workshop which comes toward the end of November.
Former Working Waterfront member and former member of the Planning Board, Jack Humeniuk, said following the meeting: “Because the changes appear very broad based and effect the community, there has to be a much broader public participation if we are gong to make changes in the comprehensive plan.” Munjoy Hill resident and attorney Barbara Vestal, formerly a member of the Working Waterfront coalition attended the planning board meeting but did not speak.