By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,192)
An application by the developer of the historic Portland Company Complex, 58 Fore Street, to rezone the almost ten acres of waterfront property is on the workshop agenda for the Planning Board on Tuesday afternoon, October 21. Developers Kevin Costello and Jim Brady appeared before the Housing and Community Development Committee, Councilor Kevin Donoghue, Chair, at its meeting last night.
The decision to begin resolving the rezoning application was the recommendation of Jeff Levine, Director of the City’s Planning & Urban Development Department. (It’s anticipated it could require 2 or 3 workshops to resolve the matter because of the complexity of the issues involved.) Levine’s written memo stated that because the rezoning request was filed first, the rezoning issue should take precedence over other considerations. The other consideration that Levine referred to was the intent of the preservation community to designate the entire property, not just several buildings, into a Historic District and all the restrictions that are incorporated therein. Members of the preservation community also lobbied the Commitee to have the preservation designation considered before the zoning matter or at the least, simultaneously.
“All we are trying to do in this zoning request is to fulfill the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan, which included the B-6, and the Eastern Waterfront Port Zone. When the city adopted this zoning on the adjacent properties, it did not at the time, have an owner willing to comply with the city’s wishes,” said Jim Brady, a member of the CPB2 development team. The development team has not yet revealed its plans for the redevelopment of this property, although it is believed to be a mix of residential, retail and office space. The development team, headed by Brady, intends to integrate many of the historical elements of the Portland Company into its redevelopment. Brady, a member of Greater Portland Landmarks himself, is currently transforming the former offices of the “Portland Press Herald” newspaper into the “Press Hotel,” retaining the historical significance of the building.
There were members from the preservation community present at the Committee meeting who expressed their interest in seeing the entire waterfront property at the bottom of Munjoy Hill become a Historic District and also called for both the zoning and historic designation to be considered simultaneous; one of those was Hillary Bassett, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks. However, two city councilors serving on the Committee differed with those positions. Both councilors John Hinck and Nick Mavadones stated clearly that all of the buildings on the property do not need to be preserved.
Attorney Barbara Vestal spoke in favor of retaining the zoning as is. Her property and that of her attorney husband Ned Chester overlooks the Portland Company Complex on the Eastern Promenade. Vestal, a former planning board member, was an outspoken critic of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum & Co. when it was established on the property below her home.
Chair Kevin Donoghue said “There is a tension between historic preservation and housing. We need to have a venue for balancing these interests.”