Strategies Mulled to Stop 58 Fore Street by “SoulofPortland”

Barbara Vestal Facilitates SoulofPortland Meeting.

Barbara Vestal Facilitates SoulofPortland Meeting.

Ralph Carmona (L), Peter ? (M) and Ned Chester, Leader of the Housing Group at SoulofPortland

Ralph Carmona (L), Peter ? (M) and Ned Chester, Leader of the Housing Group for SoulofPortland

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 2,292)

Strategies to stop the city’s planning board from approving a  zone change application for 58 Fore Street were the focus of a meeting last night on Munjoy Hill.   The planning board has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday, February 10th at 4:30 pm at city hall at which  public testimony will be heard. Thirty (30) neighbors attended the strategy session  organized by Munjoy Hill resident Barbara Vestal, on behalf of the SoulofPortland that hosted the evening ,

At the outset, Vestal, an attorney and former planning board member told the mostly middle-age plus group that the B-6 zoning change was “inappropriate” for the 58 Fore Street development.  The City never intended that the 58 Fore Street property be zoned B-6, although the developer, CPB2, maintains the opposite view. In fact, the city did intend the property be zoned B-6 like the adjoining property.  However,, it was only because the former property owner, Phin Sprague, Jr,  declined to accept that zone change that it is not zoned B-6 today.  Just ask Sprague.

Vestal emphasized that  speakers at the February planning board meeting present on their own behalf and disassociate themselves from the SoulofPortland group. The SoulofPortland has broadcast its opposition to the development loud and clear to all corners of Portland.  It’s agenda is well-known. Failure to approve the zone change  would severely restrict the type of development that could happen on this almost ten acres of valuable waterfront property at the base of Munjoy Hill.. A move that would insure the success of this piece of real estate on the waterfront.and something that the SoulofPortland does not want to see happen – creating a “dead zone” for sure.

Participants broke-out into  focus groups to discuss why they do not want the zone change. Ned Chester, facilitated the affordable housing group. The group decided that it wanted to see the planning board approve a contract zone that required a commitment to affordable housing attached.  Chester, married to Vestal, said he was afraid of having a “dead zone” on the waterfront.  That’s because the occupants would flee the Maine winter to warmer climates – leaving the area unoccupied and a “dead zone.” If this group is so pro-affordable housing, why hasn’t it tried to impose similar conditions on other high-end developments on the Hill?

On the other hand, some are concerned about the high property taxes in Portland. They question the city’s decision to build a non-taxable public school, the East End Community School, on a prime piece of  property on North Street with commercially valuable waterfront views, This lack of foresight removed this land from the city’s tax roll..  What a location this would have been for the high-end 118 Munjoy On the Hill or a similar tax revenue producing development.

Vestal and Chester, live on property that overlooks 58 Fore Street.  She was a relentless opponent of the establishment of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum when a group of rail enthusiasts brought the mini-railroad from Massachusetts to Portland in the early 90s. (The group’s leader was Phin Sprague, Jr. who is now opening New Yard at 100 West Commercial Street. )  Vestal and her cronies lost that battle;  it was an ugly,ugly food fight that pitted neighbor against neighbor. Yours truly, as a writer for the “Munjoy Hill Observer” at the time got caught in the cross-hairs and learned just how ugly the food fight was! Now is another opportunity to flex her muscles at the 58 Fore Street property  That nightmarish experience is a good reason for some people to distance ourselves from the SoulofPortland and its agenda.

Notably absent from the strategy session at East End Community School  last night were members of the Preservation Community; Hillary Bassett t, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks and a Hill resident, was the single exception.   Bassett lamented that other cities value the types of buildings found at the historic Portland Company Complex – suggesting that city officials in Portland don’t share that same commitment.  The Preservation Community, led by the city’s Deb Andrews in collaboration with Bassett had pushed to have 58 Fore Street designated a Historic District, rather than only several buildings as anticipated by CPB2,  managed by Jim Brady.

The Preservationists, whose battle cry has always been “Remember Union Station,”  lost this one.