Change is nothing new on Portland’s waterfront. At various times the harbor has been an important hub for shipping Canadian grain, processing immigrants, fishing for cod, off-loading crude oil and shipbuilding.
Nearly 30 years ago, an ambitious condominium development sparked a city-wide campaign to protect the working waterfront from luxury development.
The referendum and the zoning that it spawned saved the historic waterfront for a while, but it could not save the fishing industry, which has since shrunk to a tiny fraction of its former size.
There is good reason that the latest announcement of a non-marine development on the waterfront has not drawn the same kind of public concern as the building of Chandler’s Wharf condominiums did in the 1980s: There’s enough room for everything, if we are careful.
Local businessman Stephen Goodrich is building a multistory, contemporary-styled building on Maine Wharf that will house a high-end restaurant and offices alongside bait dealers and lobster boats.
A walk down Commercial Street quickly reveals that there is plenty of room for new development that would not limit any industrial uses. Surface parking lots are still prominent features of the central waterfront and could someday find their highest and best use as sites of new buildings.
Expansions of the cargo port on the western waterfront and a cruise ship and ferry terminal on the eastern waterfront make sure that the harbor stays busy.
More sensitive decision-making involves reuse of existing building and wharves in the Central Waterfront zone for non-marine uses. The trick will be deciding how much space the fishing, lobster and support operations will need to stay viable as regional hubs.
It’s important to remember that it’s not just he water that attracts visitors to the waterfront: They want to see the boats and be around the people who work them.
Overdevelopment of the waterfront would not just crowd out fishermen, it would take away the reason most people want to visit it in the first place.
Portland’s waterfront is in the middle of another period of change. By now, we should be used to it.