PORTLAND – Many fishermen are worried that a proposal to allow more non-marine development on the city’s piers and wharves could increase rents — and eviction notices.

“The fear of the unknown scares everybody,” said Jim Holden, a lobsterman who was evicted from Central Wharf in the 1980s when it was converted into the Chandler’s Wharf condominium complex.

That development spurred a citywide referendum that led to many of Portland’s waterfront zoning restrictions that exist today.

Pier owners who are now pushing to ease those restrictions say that the fishermen’s worries are unfounded and that they are willing to change their proposal to prevent any evictions.

“The marine tenants will stay until the day comes that they decide to leave,” said Charlie Poole, whose family owns Union Wharf.

The two sides clashed at City Hall on Wednesday night as the City Council’s Community Development Committee struggled to find consensus. The committee decided that it had more work to do before it could make a recommendation to the council.

The proposal would 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 must be reserved now entirely for marine use. The berthing space can be used only for commercial vessels, except for 50 feet along each pier that’s allowed for pleasure boats.

The pier owners’ proposal would allow non-marine uses, such as office buildings, stores and restaurants, in as much as half of a building’s ground floor. It also would allow as much as 100 feet of berthing space at each pier to be used for pleasure boats.

It would allow for more development along Commercial Street and allow hotels as a conditional use.

Pier owners say they need more income to pay for expensive pier maintenance and dredging. They say non-marine tenants would pay higher rents than marine tenants and effectively subsidize the waterfront infrastructure.

Dan Jacques, who represents Waterfront Maine, which owns Merrill’s Wharf and the Cumberland Cold Storage building, said the fishermen’s worries are unfounded because there still would be plenty of room for them.

“It’s unfortunate that the fear of change is causing people to panic,” he said.

But Chris Dazet, a lobsterman, complained that it’s hard enough to make a living without worrying about losing a place to store gear and berth his boat.

“We are working to the bone right now,” he said. “We need a break. If this happens, we will not get a break. We will be displaced.”

Holden said he knows many of the pier owners and understands their point of view. He said he believes the two sides will come to an agreement.

City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who chairs the Community Development Committee, urged both sides to work together before the committee’s next meeting, on Aug. 25.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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