PORTLAND — Members of the Planning Board, the city staff and a neighborhood association took a walking tour of India Street on Tuesday as the first step in a neighborhood effort to reduce building heights near the waterfront and develop a plan to protect the corridor’s historic nature.

The India Street corridor, which contains seven zones, has a maximum building height of 45 feet except from Middle Street to Commercial Street, where buildings can be 65 feet tall.

The changes are being sought by the India Street Neighborhood Association, which formed in 2010 to give residents more of a say in planning and development in the neighborhood, situated between the foot of Munjoy Hill, Congress Street and Franklin Street.

Before the association formed, residents had no collective voice in zoning issues, allowing the scattershot zoning that exists today. Now, a combination of vacant lots and impending development has prompted the association to push city leaders to draft a cohesive plan for the neighborhood.

Hugh Nazor, the neighborhood association’s liaison to the city, said the group is asking the city to recognize and protect the India Street neighborhood as a distinct area in the city.

“We seek an in-town, mixed-use neighborhood with a community feeling,” Nazor said in a letter to city planners. “It should be urban, but not in or of the downtown.”

The Planning Board will hold a workshop and take public comment on June 26 to discuss the site walk and any potential action. Senior planner Bill Needelman said the options range from doing nothing to recommending a zoning change to the City Council, which has the final say.

Tuesday’s site walk, which started at the corner of Middle and India streets, was intended to familiarize Planning Board members with the area.

Needelman started it by pointing to a fully extended bucket ladder at India and Fore streets. Providing a visual comparison for the 20 people on the tour, the 65-foot ladder showed the maximum building height allowed near the water. A red line below that represented the neighborhood’s requested limit.

Across the street stood the Ocean Gateway parking garage, which was built to the maximum height. Two nearby hotels – The Residence Inn and the Hampton Inn, which are close to the height limit – were also within eyeshot.

While a mixed-use development proposed along Fore, India and Middle streets would fall just short of the 65-foot height limit, Needelman said a proposed 94-unit apartment building, Bay House, across from the Shipyard Brewing Co., received a contract zone and could be as tall as about 74 feet.

It’s that type of exception neighbors want to avoid.

“I don’t want to see this (neighborhood) blown out of proportion,” said Liv Chase, who is building a 45-foot-tall apartment building on Federal Street.

Protecting the historic feel of the neighborhood is also the neighborhood association’s goal.

Needelman pointed to a Victorian brick building – a style typical along the corridor – at the corner of Federal and India streets. Unlike other areas of Portland, India Street is not a protected historic district. “There is the possibility that building could come down and a taller building could go up,” he said.

As the tour concluded, Nazor turned back toward the waterfront, saying 65-foot buildings would block water views.

The point resonated with Ed Gardner, a broker with Ocean Gate Realty, which is marketing the units in a proposed development on Hampshire Street by S. Donald Sussman, the majority shareholder in MaineToday Media, which owns the Portland Press Herald.

If allowable building heights aren’t reduced, Gardner said, “(India) will be a tunnel corridor instead of an open corridor.”

 

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: @randybillings