Deliberations and a vote by the Planning Board on whether or not to support a historic designation for Munjoy Hill was postponed because of the lateness of the hour. At 10:00 pm this evening, Chair Brandon Mazur took a poll of the Planning Board members. They voted to delay further deliberations until the next meeting because of the lateness of the hour – caused by the extensive public comment period that ended at that hour.
At the outset of the three hour public hearing, Deb Andrews, Historic Preservation Program Manager, said the board’s task was to determine whether the nominated District meets applicable designation criteria. Andrews said there are no other areas of the city under consideration for this designation at this time. “We are trying not to be overreaching,” she said.
The preponderance of those testifying for the District were the elite of the Hill. Numerous lawyers, a residential architect, a nationally successful business woman, landlords, and others who have not been seen at city hall since the unsuccessful struggle to prevent the redevelopment of 58 Fore Street, a/k/a Portland Foreside testified in favor of the Historic District. The effort to stop the redevelopment of the valuable waterfront property was led by attorney Barbara Vestal, wife of attorney Ned Chester. Ms. Vestal was one of the leaders, if not the leader, of the unsuccessful NIMBY movement against Portland Foreside. Both of them testified in favor of the Historic District designation this evening. Change is hard for the Elite.
Some speakers spoke with surprising certainity: Stacy Mitchell is a landlord who wrote a book about buying locally only said if her property were sold it would be torn down and a condominium built to replace it. Wayne Valenza, a restoration contractor and president of the Munjoy HIll Neighborhood Organization, said: “We have cohesive architecture.” The justification for the District by many of these same NIMBYs is the change in architecture – from the traditional architecture of Rob Whitten to a more contemporary style. Hill resident Mary Casale justified her support for the Historic District by telling an anecdote unrelated to any significance under discussion. She further justified her view with a recitation of her long history on the HIll – suggesting that fact should be considered in the planning board’s ultimate decision. Change is all the harder the longer one has lived on the Hill.
Speaking effectively as part of the minority who do not support the Historic District designation was Lori Rounds. Rounds doubts that the Hill meets the criteria of a “significant example of the cultural, historic, architectural, archeological or related aspects of the heritage of the City of Portland…” that the Historic Preservation Board voted to support. Rounds testified this evening that it is not a significant cultural example because of the lack of anything other than the Green Memorial Zion Church that celebrates “any particular group who lives on the HIll.,,,the Hill has the same demographics as many neighborhoods in Portland,” Rounds pointed out. She also testified that the HIll does not fit any of the other criteria cited by the HP Board. Is the Hill a significant historic example? There is Fort Sumner Park and there is the Observatory. But those are already landmarks. Rounds rebuttal to the Hill NIMBYs ended with: “But Munjoy Hill? Does not pass the straight face test when comparing it to our other Historic District’s.
Tim Wells said that he does not support the proposed size of the district. “This is not the west end. A lot of the language has been watered down. Lots of homes have been drastically modified and are not as they once were. There is a lot of conflict in the Comprehensive Plan.”