By Carol McCracken (Post # 2, 204)
Developer Michael Scarks tried to persuade the city’s planning board that a proposed historic designation for the entire House Island was not necessary and was in good hands with him and another owner who recently purchased the northern part of the Island from him. Scarks asked the board this evening to limit its historic designation to only the buildings on the historic Island and not include the acreage around the buildings. The planning board will make a recommendation to the City Council on whether or not to accept his request.
Scarks told the planning board that because the Cushing family were :”benign” owners and good stewards of the Island, does that make him a bad steward? “We’ve cleaned up the perimeter of the Island since we purchased it in May 2014.” Deb Andrews, city historic preservationist, said that House Island has lots of remnants from wharves and rocks that were part of its fishing legacy and “is compelling as a historic district.” She said that this historic designation will not impede future development, but only add layers of review. Planning board member Timothy Dean said that “extra layers of review are not a bad thing.” Board members appeared to agree that a historic designation for the entire Island was appropriate, although no vote was taken. Scarks left the meeting before it was over. (He restored the Washington Avenue Nissen Baking Co. building, referred to in a previous post herein.)
The only other item on the agenda was a request for a zoning change to B-6 on the almost ten acres of land at 58 Fore Street on the Portland eastern waterfront. This zone change would comply with the Comprehensive Plan. The land encompasses State of Maine Property, two City-owned parking areas and submerged lands, some of which compose the historic site of the Portland Company complex.
Introducing the application on behalf of the applicant, CPB2 LLC, was Jim Brady, one of three executives of the management company. Brady told the board members that he believed the “appropriate time to look at the historic building issue, was after the zoning is decided. “We have a lengthy process ahead of us,” he told the board. Mary Costigan, attorney for CPB2, took the planning board through a technical maze of the zoning implications for this valuable waterfront property expected to be developed as a mixed-use development.
During the public comment portion, several Hill residents expressed concern about what a B-6 zone might mean for heights of buildings in the development. Eastern Prom resident and attorney Barbara Vestal restated her position that the zoning change should not be made and should remain as is. Vestal whose home overlooks the development site, was adamant in her objection to the installation of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum in the 1990s.
Chairman Stuart O’Brien said: “This zoning proposal is fairly complicated. It’s the most complicated since I’ve been on the board. O’Brien suggested the board go on a site-walk of the property specifically to study the building heights on the site. The board decided it was important to “break this into manageable chunks to do the job well.” Otherwise, it could become overhwhelming members agreed. Deb Andrews, wanted the planning board to rule on the Local Historic District for the property, but the board decided otherwise. Furthermore, Jeff Levine, Director of the Planning & Urban Development office stated on a previous occasion that the rezoning issue should be decided before the local historic district designation issue.
Long-time board member Bill Hall said: “This is amazingly complicated. But it is a tremendous opportunity for the city.”