By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,318)
This evening the Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend to the Portland City Council to approve the zone change requested by applicant CPB2 LLC to rezone almost ten acres of waterfront property at the bottom of Munjoy Hill to B-6. The application has been before the planning board for three (3) workshops prior to this evening’s public hearing and vote.
58 Fore Street, a/k/a the Portland Company Complex, was sold about l l/2 years ago to CPB2 by Phineas Sprague, Jr. for $10 M. The applicant, managed by Jim Brady, had requested a zone change so that the property will conform to the city’s original zoning intent. After meeting with neighbors and reps from the SoulofPortland, an ad hoc group trying to block the proposed mixed-use development, CPB2 LLC made concessions regarding development along Fore Street.
Opposition to the development led by attorney and organizer of the SoulofPortland, Barbara Vestal, has maintained the zone change was not the intent of the city. However, she has been proven inaccurate in that statement. Tonight Vestal tried to make the case that the height of the buildings should be measured from the flood plain because there is precedent for that in obscure city notes. “It’s not a policy, it’s a flood plain level which the city council cannot lawfully reverse,” Vestal said. Rather, the Comprehensive Plan calls for the measurement to start at the average grade said Mary Costigan, attorney for CPB2 LLC – with which the Planning Board members concurred. Local business owner Angela Adams and Hill resident asked the board to delay the vote “to get more information.” Michael Connolly, a life-long resident of the Hill and College Professor said he’s concerned about the loss of views. “Views are precious. Once gone, they are gone forever.”
Testifying in favor of the zone change was Ian Jacob. “The opposition is only concerned about views. No one owns a view. Everytime a building goes up a view is lost.” Architect Paul Stevens, whose office is nearby said that if the zone change is not made the property will go underutilized. The purposes for which “it is currently zoned are not appropriate for this site,” he said.
Planning board members were enthusiastic about the potential of the site with the zone change. Timothy Dean, outgoing board member, said the consistency of the proposal with the Comprehensive Plan is important. “My biggest concern would be the length rather than the height of the project.” Jack Soley said that the rezoning of the property is in the best interests of the city. “It will create a meaningful development.” Carol Morrissetts said the zoning change allows for vibrancy on the waterfront and is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.
A 3-D visual massing model has become controversial because of its misleading depiction of the development that could occur at 58 Fore Street.. In fact, it has mysteriously disappeared from the “Souls” website. The Souls commissioned Rob Whitten, Whitten Architects, in the Old Port, to produce the video. A letter from Woodard & Curran, project manager, and dated January 28, 2015 says that the video “incorrectly depicts allowable building heights,,,,the models developed by Whiten Associates is both highly inaccurate and misleading to the public.” Rob Whitten has not responded to an email inquiring about the status of the erroneous video and why it has been removed from the Soul’s webpage
With consistency with the Comprehensive Plan in mind, city senior planner Christine Grimando, prepared a two-page memorandum in which she concluded that the zone change and amendments are “in harmony with the policies of the ‘Comprehensive Plan. It was made a part of the applicant’s record – to which board member Bill Hall kidded with her that he was relying on her to be accurate in her analysis.