Wharf Owners Meet With Planning Board, Again; State Says: “We have jurisdiction and authority over the submerged land here!”

Steve DiMillo, Charlie Poole and Dick Ingalls, former Portland Harbor Commissioner

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 336)

Yesterday afternoon the city’s planning board held another workshop initiated by a coalition of Commercial Street wharf owners requesting a relaxation of the zoning ordinance to permit more non-marine useage for the wharves.  Late last month, three representatives of the Waterfront Central Zone (WCZ) urged the planning board to consider its written text amendment as presented to them previously.

However, Steve DiMillo, Charlie Poole and Dick Ingalls representing WCZ were clearly stunned and frustrated by the  “Draft Policy Review Process and Timeline”  the city’s planning board staff presented to them at the meeting. ( The process would begin in January 2010 and end next summer.)  That’s because there has to be a complete review  of the Comprehensive Plan before any text amendment changes can be made to it;  possibly opening the door to the relaxations to the ordinance sought by the WCZ could be set in motion.  The City Council could see the text amendent on July 5,  2010, but not before most likely for action.  

Steve DiMillo said he was “stunned and taken aback by the length of the timeline” proposed by the city’s staff.  Dick Ingalls said  “streamlining the process to give wharf owners some relief or shortening of the process would be appreciated.” Following the meeting Ingalls said:  “We’ve written the text amendent four times.  We want it considered ASAP.”

During the public comment segment of the workshop, Steve DiMillo said he was “stunned and taken aback” by the length of the  timeline

The kickoff of the process oulined by Bill Needleman, city senior planner, called for a two part process starting with an information collection and a policy and text development segments.  The first of the information collection meetings is scheduled for January 12, 2010.  At that meeting a number of issues would be addressed including legal issues such as submerged lands and shore land zone.  Another meeting scheduled for January 26, focuses on “State of the Port” including a report on Maine Industries, Tourism and Non-Marine Sector Data.  There are two public forums scheduled in early and mid-February.  That ends the information Collection segment of the process.  The Policy and Text Development segment runs from February 23 until June 8th.

The third and final segment of the overall review of the Comprehensive Plan involves the city council and its review process.  That would start on June 7th with a workshop.  The City Council would conceptually act on the Comprehensive Plan on July 5th.  David Silk, Chair, suggested that some of these meetings and forums be held on the waterfront itself to maximize accessibility for the public.

Dan Prichard, of the State’s Department of Conservation, Submerged Lands Program, attended the meeting.  In a letter dated November 24, hand delivered to Planner Bill Needelman, Prichard wrote (in part):  “The Bureau’s ‘submerged Lands Rules currently do not allow for upland uses or fill on submerged lands unless they are for ‘an essential but subsidiaryh part of a commercial fishing use, water-dependent use, shoreland stabilitation, cable, or pipeline and the applicant has demonstrated that there is no other reasonable alternative site available.’ In regards to the current proposal before the planning board, we are most concerned about proposed changes that would allow new or expanded upland uses on those proposed changes  upland uses on those portions of the piers and wharfs in the Waterfront Central Zone located over submerged lands.”  Prichard told MHN:  “We have jurisdiction and authority over the submerged land here.”

Please see posts # 320 dated November 6th and post # 312 dated October 28th for more background information.