PORTLAND – The Planning Board unanimously approved the site plan Tuesday for the $12 million redevelopment of the Cumberland Cold Storage building on Merrill Wharf.

Pierce Atwood, Maine’s largest law firm, plans to move 175 employees to the building from its current headquarters at One Monument Square.

Board members praised the developers for finding a way for office workers and lobstermen to share the 1.6-acre site.

The plan would preserve six berthing areas for commercial fishing boats and establish a 5- to 7-foot-wide platform on the edge of the wharf where lobstermen could stack their traps.

“I have every confidence this will be a significant proposal,” said board Chairman Joe Lewis, speaking to the developers after the vote. “You should be congratulated on the vision and determination to make this happen.”

Built a century and a half ago to store rum and molasses, the five-story building is between Union Wharf and the Portland Fish Pier.

The plan is on the fast track because the developers want to begin work on the project as soon as possible. Pierce Atwood’s lease at One Monument Square ends at the end of March.

On Monday, the City Council approved giving the building’s owner, Waterfront Maine, a $2.8 million tax break for the project.

Much of the discussion by the Planning Board focused on whether the developer’s proposal would provide enough parking spaces

Waterfront Maine had proposed 176 parking spaces, 71 of which would be on the site. Pierce Atwood plans to lease 70 spaces from the Portland Fish Exchange and 35 in the Spring Street garage.

Six of the spaces would be reserved for operators of the six lobster boats that use the wharf; 15 spaces would be reserved for tenants of the building’s ground floor. Under city zoning, those tenants must have marine-related businesses.

The board could have required as many as 228 spaces or as few as 114. In the end, it decided that the developers had not provided enough parking and voted to require 191 spaces.

Earlier Tuesday, the board discussed a proposal to relax zoning restrictions aimed a protecting the working waterfront. The board is considering recommending that the current ban on residential units, including hotels, be removed.

The board will hold a public hearing on the issue June 22 and vote on a recommendation to the council.

The City Council will discuss it June 28. The council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the issue July 19.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]