The Portland Planning Board says it needs more information to justify a zoning change that would allow a 68-foot-tall cold-storage facility proposed for the western waterfront.

“I am not confident yet that I have been shown the data to express the needs in order to justify the wants,” board member Carol Morrissette said at a public hearing Tuesday, expressing a view shared by others on the seven-member board.

The building proposed by Americold Logistics LLC, which could invest up to $30 million in the project, has been touted as an economic game-changer for Portland and Maine, but faces intense resistance from West End residents because of its size.

The Portland Economic Development Office is seeking a zoning change to increase the building height limit from 45 feet to 75 feet. The change is requested by Atlanta-based Americold, which in 2015 was chosen by the Maine Port Authority to build a modern cold-storage building on the waterfront.

Board members said they wanted to know specific business reasons for the need to increase the building height allowed under the current zoning, and how much of the cold storage space would be used by the shipping company Eimskip.

“I don’t think we have enough economic research and understanding,” board member David Eaton said. “I think there is a whole lot of information we don’t have.”

IMPORTANT TO RELATED BUSINESSES

Advocates of the project say Portland needs a cold-storage facility to compete with other ports and expand the state’s food and beverage industry. Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping company that made Portland its North American headquarters in 2014, also wants cold storage to grow its business. The shipping company intends to locate its offices in the new building.

“Cold storage will help cement our relationship with Eimskip,” John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority, said Tuesday in a presentation to the Planning Board. “Without it, this future is uncertain.”

To be economically viable, it needs a height increase because a 45-foot-tall building on the 6-acre parcel won’t be big enough, Henshaw said.

The property in the waterfront development zone could have been developed for other uses, but the city “chose to wait for the very opportunities we have in front of us now,” said Portland waterfront coordinator Bill Needelman.

Portland Yacht Services, which operates west of the proposed cold-storage building, also is eyeing a building taller than 45 feet so it can service larger vessels, Needelman said.

“The infrastructure allowed under the current regime is proving to be insufficient” to meet the purpose of creating an efficient, modern port, he said.

An initial proposal from the Portland Planning Department would allow buildings to have a 75-foot height limit, preserve sight lines to the harbor and create space between buildings in the area.

But the proposal has ignited a firestorm of criticism, mainly from residents in the West End who are concerned about lost views of the harbor, falling property values, increased traffic and a wall of buildings on Commercial Street.

“It is too big, too out-of-scale and too disruptive to the gateway of Portland,” said Sonia Robertson of Danforth Street.

More than 20 people spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, most in opposition to the proposed building height increase.

‘WHY ARE WE ACTING SO DESPERATE?’

Many pledged their support for port development and shipping, but questioned whether Americold wants more space for its own business interests not related to the adjacent International Marine Terminal.

Some questioned if Eimskip could have the storage space it needs at the 45-foot limit. Others accused Americold of running a “bait-and-switch” by requesting a zoning change after it won the job of building the facility.

“It is 2017 and business is good here,” said Carol Kelly, referring to Portland’s economic success. “Why are we acting so desperate to meet one company’s wish list?”

The board intends to make a recommendation on a zoning change to the Portland City Council. The board took no action Tuesday and agreed to hold another workshop before making a recommendation.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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This story was updated at 10:40 a.m. on Jan. 25 to clarify a quote from Carol Kelly.