To demolish a qualifying building and deal with the unintended consequences of a replacement building with added zoning restrictions or not to demolish a building that doesn’t qualify was on the minds of many who attended a planning board workshop early last week at city hall.
Undoing the handiwork of former city councilor and chair of the Housing Committee Kevin Donoghue of the consequences of zoning changes to the R6 Hill zone, is an ironic endeavor for some Hill residents. Some were strongly opposed to the changes that the city council approved in May of 2015. Donoghue, just out of graduate school, championed the changes. Perhaps he was heavily lobbied by the real estate industry who would stand to gain the most by the relaxation of the new zoning. Nini McManamy and Mary Casales, the latter a 40 year resident of the Hill, were two opposed to the 2015 changes and said so at the time.
In his thorough presentation to the planning board early last week, Jeff Levine, Portland’s planning and urban development director, said that “there is not much that can be done through zoning to prevent gentrification. There are other tools that need to be used for that,” he said. (Some of those tools might well have come under the auspices of the Housing Committee, chaired by Councilor Jill Duson.)
Levine said that there may be two different historic districts; one running along the Eastern Promenade and Fore Street. A second district could eventually run along North Street, the first street to be built on Munjoy Hill. Although no official position has been announced by the MHNO, it appears that the non-profit’s leaders favor the historic district route.
Wayne Valzania, a Merrill Street resident who is a builder, said in part: “…structures appear to be in most flagrant violation to the character of the neighborhood. It happens that we are looking out at a cold, faceless multi-unit lacking even the humanizing features….represented in the architectural drawings and renderings we were shown before construction began. Demolition is necessary sometimes, but that does not give the right for anything to go in there.” He also said that developers should not be able to make the “demolition” decision by themselves. (Valzania was referring to the condominium in the top right photo at 30 Merrill Street).
Lori Rounds said she moved to the Hill because “it is vibrant, eclectic, walkable and has ocean views, neighborhoods, restaurants and commercial activity…we are directly impacted by the IPOD and the proposed permanent changes to R-6 rules. The house is old but it is not historic. It has been neglected for many years, is derelict and according to three contractors is structurally unsound and beyond repair. We intend to demolish the house and build a single family home in which we will reside. We have been caught up in the moratorium and are unable to apply for a demolition permit until after June 4…the Demolition Review rules add further delay and uncertainty and potentially cost to our plans to rebuild on the lot….” (See above left photo of Rounds.)
“I want very much for the City to consider this as a living neighborhood not a business deal to make…..But to have so many people using this area as a commercial enterprise is causing it great harm. We are loosing green space and trees, beautiful old houses, and, as the buildings go higher and higher, the sky and light….What kind of a neighborhood do we want?” asked Elizabeth Streeter in an email last month to the planning department.
“The changes to the zoning in 2015 were unfortunate. Where are the problems? Just show us the problems. This is all just because a couple of people don’t like what’s happening here. Put the 2015 ordinance back in effect,” said George Rowe.
Planning board member David Silk said that he remembered when the R-6 infill was passed by the city council. “It was never intended to become an incentive to demolish structures. It was to encourage development on small lots. It’s about what is consistent with the comprehensive plan. Not what I like. The best way to stop change is to cover the area with a historic designation.” This is attorney Silk’s second time on the planning board.
The City Council is due to vote on the final recommendation by the planning board on June 4th, because the interim plan in existence ends on June 5th. Partly in order to accommodate that tight timeline, the proposal by the planning department will go to a planning board public hearing next.