There is no shortage of solutions for the perceived problems with Portland’s working waterfront.

In the 1980s, when commercial and residential development appeared poised to drive out the businesses that depend on access to the water, the solution was a citizen-initiated ban on all non-marine uses.

Now, property owners say the water-dependent businesses don’t produce enough income to pay for maintenance, and they propose relaxing the zoning, letting them rent to businesses that are now barred.

What’s needed now is a solution that recognizes the importance of Portland’s working waterfront, while allowing for the kind of diverse development that lets the property owners and the city capitalize on the desirability of being near the water.

The city Council’s Community Development Committee is rightly working with all the stakeholders to find a compromise that lets both water-dependent and compatible non-marine businesses coexist on limited real estate.

The outcome may not be what either side wants at this point, but it would be better than an overly broad zoning approach that benefits one side over the other.

Protections should be built into the ordinance to make sure that increased revenue from non-marine uses are actually invested in piers and other infrastructure. The zoning should also reflect the difference between property right on Commercial Street and the ends of the piers and should treat them differently.

Also, the zoning deal should protect existing water-dependent users from being displaced by other kinds of businesses. None of these conflicts is easy to resolve, but those are the kinds of resolutions that will work.


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