Two Controversial Waterfront Matters Seek June Public Hearings Before Planning Board

Dennis Keeler, representing Pierce Atwood, Hopes For a Spring 2011 Move Date

Dennis Keeler, representing Pierce Atwood, Hopes For a Spring 2011 Move Date

By Carol McCracken (Post # 477)

Yesterday afternoon the planning board was presented with a policy statement prepared by staff and requested by board members at the May 11 board workshop. This is part of the overall process in which eleven pier owners petitioned the city for text amendments to the current zoning ordinance – the text amendments would relax the zoning restrictions to permit more non-marine related industry on the waterfront. The assumption being that higher revenues generated would enable pier owners to maintain the wharves better than they currently are able to do.

One of the seven “development policies” that generated public comment came from a prohibition for residental development. Architect Paul Stevens, representing the Portland Society of Architects, recommended omitting the current prohibition on housing. Agreeing with Stevens was architect Scott Teas. Former mayor and working waterfront proponent Anne B. Pringle said she does not believe the fishing industry is “all but dead. We want to be thoughtful about this. Union Station was torn down because no one thought trains would come back.” Peter McAleney, of New Meadows Lobster, said: “We don’t have time to wait for the fish to come back. How many good years have we got?” – laughter ensued.

Chairman Bill Hall said” “I favor the changes made so far, but I’m not sure of the future…. more revenue would be generated, but will the dollars go back to pier restoration? We don’t know that.” A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for June 22 before the planning board.

Waterfront Maine, owners of the Cumberland Cold Storage Building, 254 Commercial Street, presented its plans for restoration of the building to accommodate a new tenant, the state’s largest law firm, Pierce Atwood. Architect Steve Weatherhead said the changes are mostly internal basics – such as reopening the windows for better views, providing elevators and bathrooms and fire prevention. A new lobby would be constructed as well as a rooftop terrace.

Chair Bill Hall requested a clearer analysis of parking spaces needed and what the owner can provide. More traffic analysis is needed as well. A public hearing is tentatively set for June 8th, depending on whether or not enough board members will be in attendance.

Dennis Keeler, a partner at Pierce Atwood attended the planning board workshop and told MHN.com following the meeting: “Our lease is up in April of next year. It seemed like the natural time to look around. We came very close to moving to the Maine Mall. We had a draft lease drawn up there.” Keeler laughed when he said there would be no parking issues out there. “Our business has changed. It used to be local only. That’s changed. It’s more regional than it used to be. We have people flying in from all over now.”

Pierce Atwood has asked for a tax break from the city for almost $3 million dollars. Asked if the city does not grant it, would the firm go through with the Commercial Street relocation, Keeler responded: “I don’t know. It’s up to my partners to decide.”

The City Council will hold a public hearing and then vote on the tax break on June 7th.