The recently published India Street Neighborhood Plan for regulating the development and historic preservation of this unique area of Portland misses the city waterfront’s equally historic importance as a commercial transportation hub.

While needed to protect India Street neighbors from unwanted development, the India Street Neighborhood Plan’s impacts on the waterfront are unknown, and the plan could have serious unintended consequences for what may be the most valuable real estate on the Eastern Seaboard.

The waterfront side of Fore Street – including the former Grand Trunk railway property, the Shipyard Brewery complex and the undeveloped and underdeveloped part of the Eastern Waterfront – is already covered by the city comprehensive plan, now 10 years old. Even inferred inclusion of this land in the India Street Neighborhood Plan is a mistake.

MULTIPLE MODES

The commercial transportation resources of the waterfront include the ferry to Nova Scotia, cruise ships, the Casco Bay Island Transit District (with 1 million passengers annually) and the rail corridor connecting Portland’s waterfront to western Maine and beyond. Although not explicitly included in the India Street Neighborhood Plan, they could be negatively affected.

Many Portland residents and visitors are not aware that there is a railroad from Montreal to India Street in Portland, established in 1853, known as the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad, and that the right of way still exits. The Portland peninsula section, wholly owned by the state of Maine, is currently used by Portland Trails and the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. tourist rail under a leasing agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation.

The state of Maine has a plan in place to operate passenger service on this rail route. It has already spent millions of dollars on the engineering and environmental assessments for the operations.

In 2011, the plan was refined in an MDOT analysis, and this past April, a $1.35 million application for funding the final design was submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation. A recent poll prepared for the Maine Sierra Club shows that almost 8 in 10 residents (77 percent), conservatives and liberals alike, say they want investments in the railroad to allow for passenger rail service between Portland and Auburn.

The St. Lawrence & Atlantic rail project is a realistic effort to restore passenger rail service between the Portland waterfront and the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport. This is the first leg of a planned extension through western Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, extending finally to Montreal.

REGIONAL HUB

This initial 30-mile corridor links the two largest population centers in Maine. Restoring this critical transportation route provides an opportunity to reduce congestion, mitigate pollution and connect Portland to a host of economic regions, while reducing the costs of transportation to consumers and governments alike.

However, there are references in the India Street Neighborhood Plan to the waterfront and to the Eastern Promenade Trail, which runs on the St. Lawrence & Atlantic right of way.

A review of the draft plan indicates detailed and complicated zoning regulations for the India Street neighborhood, including the Eastern Waterfront properties. Such regulations would affect the planning required for a passenger rail transit center at the Ocean Gateway site and designs for alternative means of transportation, including bike, pedestrian, bus, ferry and services such as car and bike share.

The India Street Neighborhood Plan is an effective instrument for preserving the integrity of the neighborhood to the benefit of the growing residential population. However, the historic preservation, inclusionary zoning, building heights, mass and design, parking standards, street design requirements and other applications of government regulatory land-use codes are not in the best interest of obtaining the highest and best use of the commercial waterfront.

PLANS RUSHED

The India Street Neighborhood Plan process was done in record time for an initiative of its scope. Those involved consider it well-vetted.

But now that the details of zoning and design requirements are out for public comment, it is evident that the boundary of the India Street neighborhood should not have been extended into the waterfront.

In fact, it is time to revisit the Eastern Waterfront and have some public discussion on the plans for the former Portland Co., the Shipyard Brewery, the Grand Trunk land, Munjoy South and the expansion of the Ocean Gateway Transportation Center for the inclusion of passenger rail.

— Special to the Press Herald