David Bateman, d/b/a Fishermen’s Wharf LLC, put his best pitch forward in an effort to convince the planning board it should approve his application for a conditional rezoning permitting a 93-room hotel to be built over a surface parking lot – 184 Commercial Street – on 1.9 acres of waterfront property.
Bateman enumerated the benefits to the public that his hotel, if receiving rezoning approval, could bring along with it in the form of public amenities.
He said the similarities between his proposal and the layout of DiMillo’s Restaurant bore a striking resemblance. Improved access to the waterfront through a wide boardwalk. a Dispatch Center for marine use with a manager and a new gangway plank, wharves docks to replace current ones, were some of the public amenities for which Bateman advocated. Funding for these amenities and others would never be provided by public funding. But he could provide them as part of his proposed waterfront hotel.
Bateman also said that he’d consider providing garage parking at a 75% discount to residents of Peaks Island for twenty (20) years. The lack of adequate parking on the main land for Peaks Islands resident has long been a sensitive issue with the city of Portland. “Hotels generate spinoffs and make cash registers ring,” said Bateman.
Taking an opposition view was Karen Sanford who said: “We have a working waterfront because we have a deep port close to other forms of transportation. This would not be a decision about one hotel because if approved, it can’t help but jack up prices, and remove a huge property from future marine use,” Sanford said.
Cyrus Hagge, a Munjoy Hill resident, also testified in opposition to approval for the hotel. His point was that such an approval would open the path for other developers to apply to build residential housing on the waterfront – an option to which he is opposed. Keith Lane, a fisherman from Munjoy Hill asked: “Do we really want hundreds more cars on Commercial Street? When you can’t move on the street, you choke off business.”
Whitney Harvey, a Chandler’s Wharf condo owner said that with this development, the “light and air will be cut out. There may be a corridor of buildings. Portland has become a very hot little city. No wonder everyone is moving here. A hotel on the waterside is a mistake. It will allow others to come in and build a wall of brick.” Jason Schooner, a musician, who performs at the popular Portland Lobster Company, is opposed to the rezoning for the hotel because “what will keep housing from getting in?”
In the face of formidable opposition from many Chandler’s Wharf residents, it appeared that the planning board stalled for time. That was in the form of a request for another workshop rather than going to a public hearing at which the Board would make a decision on the rezoning application. Board member Maggie Stanley showed her bias against the proposed hotel when she lumped housing and hotels into one and the same. She was checked by Tuck O’Brien who told her that the planning department considers the two entities to be separate and not connected. He volunteered to talk to her in private about the differences if warranted.
“We should build towers on our waterfront – like the rest of the world does. This is acceptable change. Let’s focus on the positive because we don’t have to stay stuck back in the 1980’s,” said George Rowe.