PORTLAND – The Planning Board wants city councilors to reconsider Portland’s ban on residential development on the waterfront.

That would be a major change for the city, which has not permitted new housing on the waterfront since the 1980s.

The board voted 7-0 Tuesday night to endorse a policy statement saying that residential land uses are not necessarily incompatible with marine uses, especially in areas close to Commercial Street.

However, the board says it needs more time and study to determine where residential uses should be allowed.

The board also endorsed proposals to relax zoning in the central waterfront zone, the cluster of piers and wharves that stretches from the Maine State Pier to the International Marine Terminal.

The ground floors of buildings there now must be reserved entirely for marine use, and the berthing space can be used only for commercial vessels.

The Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend allowing non-marine uses, such as office buildings, stores and restaurants, in as much as half of a building’s ground floor space.

Several board members said they support permitting residential development in areas closer to Commercial Street and away from the edges of the piers.

“If the goal is to convert asphalt to more active use, I would like to have a broader type of use permitted,” said board member David Silk.

The Portland Society of Architects recommends that the city lift its ban on residential development.

If only office buildings and hotels are allowed in the central waterfront zone, all of the new development will undermine existing hotels and office buildings in the rest of the city, said Constance Bloomfield, a board member of the Portland Society of Architects.

Allowing a mix of commercial and residential development would make the waterfront more lively and diverse, she said.

A group of pier owners initiated proposed zoning changes more than a year ago, and has been working with the city’s planning staff. The pier owners say they are looking for more flexibility so they can find tenants who can pay higher rents. That would give the owners enough income to maintain the piers.

If the pier owners aren’t given more flexible zoning, the piers will continue to deteriorate, said Richard Ingalls, representing the pier owners.

Some critics, including Anne Pringle and Barbara Vestal, said there is no mechanism in the proposal to require that property owners invest their profits in pier maintenance. They said the city should have other tools, such as a special tax district, to ensure that the investment is made.

The Planning Board agreed unanimously.

“There needs to be some way to steer some of that (revenue) to the piers,” said board Chairman Bill Hall.

The pier owners never proposed allowing residential development. Charlie Poole, whose family owns Union Warf, said it is appropriate that the Planning Board discuss allowing residential development near Commercial Street.

The City Council may vote on the zoning changes for the central waterfront Monday. Because of procedural issues, it will not being able to vote on allowing residential development until a later meeting.

 

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