A group of West End residents has filed paperwork to nullify a zoning change and block a proposed cold-storage warehouse on Portland’s western waterfront.

The petition, signed by about 125 people who live near the industrial port district, would take effect only if a referendum giving citizens more say over zoning changes passes in November.

The petition drive was organized by residents who are upset with new height limits that allow some buildings in the waterfront port development zone to be 75 feet tall. Many have complained that the planning process was skewed in favor of allowing tall buildings, like the proposed cold-storage facility, and claim city officials ignored neighborhood concerns.

Organizers submitted their petition hours before the City Council overwhelmingly approved amendments to the waterfront port development zone Wednesday.

“It comes out of a real frustration with the way the Planning Board is dealing with rezoning,” said Jo Coyne, a Salem Street resident who helped gather petition signatures.

“They have this process in place where they work with the public and we enable that by showing up, but then they brush us aside and do what they want,” Coyne said in an interview Thursday. “They are not listening.”

Opponents like Coyne welcome a proposed ordinance to make zoning changes harder without neighborhood support.

A citizen referendum on the November ballot would block rezoning efforts if 25 percent of registered voters living within 500 feet of a proposed development site sign a petition objecting to the change. Developers could override a petition if they collect signatures from a majority of residents living within 1,000 feet of the site.

If successful, the referendum would be retroactive to May 15, 2017, which means residents could overturn approved zoning changes, such as the amendments to the waterfront port development zone passed Wednesday night.

The referendum was proposed by residents of the Stroudwater neighborhood upset with the rezoning of Portland’s remaining farmland to allow almost 100 new homes.

Coyne sees the proposed ordinance as a tool to prevent construction of a series of huge buildings along the western waterfront, which would block views from the West End.

“I think it is sad that the West End or Stroudwater residents have to resort to this as a tool,” she said.

The West End signatures will not be verified by the city clerk’s office until after the Nov. 7 election, said city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin.

CHALLENGING THE PROCESS

On Wednesday, city councilors overwhelmingly approved amendments to the waterfront port development zone west of the Casco Bay Bridge. The move is intended to stimulate growth and allow construction of a 68-foot-high cold-storage warehouse next to the International Marine Terminal. Supporters have said the port needs cold storage to grow, and that it will help develop Maine’s food and beverage industry and cement a relationship with Icelandic shipping company Eimskip.

John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority, did not respond to a request for comment.

Opponents of the changes decry the new height allowances and say that Americold – the company selected to build the cold-storage warehouse on land owned by the port authority – never proved it needed a building that tall to be economically successful.

A report commissioned by the city during the planning process said the return on investment for a smaller facility might not attract investment from a company that could have other opportunities. Another analysis concluded that Eimskip’s need for cold storage would exceed the capacity of a smaller building within the next seven years. Opponents dispute those findings.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who represents the West End, has concerns with the height allowance, but disagreed with trying to overturn the council’s decision.

“We have worked for the last year, as a group, on the zoning there. I think to be able to come in and upset that process is a real concern,” he said.

Thibodeau helped coordinate meetings between the city and neighborhood, and was the only councilor to vote against the zoning amendments. He expected to move onto the next step in the process, not “relitigate” the zoning change, Thibodeau said.

“While I don’t agree with 10 percent of the outcome, 90 percent was really good work by the community and the city,” he said.

EXTRA HEIGHT FOR MARINE INDUSTRIES

At a public hearing before the council vote Wednesday, many West End residents said their own analysis showed that Americold could be successful with a building 55 feet high. They accused the city and port officials of misrepresenting the issue to benefit the company.

The zoning change was debated for over a year, and included more than 40 public meetings and multiple public hearings with neighbors.

Final amendments were intended to mitigate the effect of the large developments on neighborhoods north of the zone by requiring sight lines between buildings, setbacks from Commercial Street and smaller footprints for buildings.

Height limits in the zone were increased from 45 feet to 55 feet, but 75 feet is allowed for buildings specifically connected to marine industries that meet certain conditions.

Practically, the changes will allow one tall building on each of the handful of lots in the zone.

City planners have said that although the previous zoning had lower height limits, taller buildings could be allowed because of differences in roof pitch and grade.

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

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Twitter: PeteL_McGuire