A recent Maine Voices column (“Portland should embrace optimism, welcome development, ‘rise again,’ “ June 19) misstated what the Save the Soul of Portland referendum will do. It is important to set the record straight.

The referendum does not stop the Portland Co. development. The referendum does:

 Establish a scenic viewpoint protection tool that may be utilized by the city in key spots to protect distinctive and highly distinctive views.

Identify the Fore Street/working waterfront panorama as the first public view to be protected by this tool.

Establish a task force to identify other highly significant public views that should be protected, to present its findings to the Planning Board for review, and to the City Council for action.

The task force will not have the power to enact new regulations. Only the City Council can do that.


Finally, the referendum will require the submission of a site plan showing proposed uses as part of any zone-change request. The city should not again be put in the position of granting a zone change without having any idea of what the applicant intends to do with it. (The full text of the referendum petition can be found at www.soulofportland.org/referendum-text.)

The referendum will only restrict development on about one-third of an acre out of the 10-acre-plus Portland Co. site. The new development allowed by the rezoning can still proceed on 97 percent of the site.

The referendum only makes off-limits to development the top of the steep slope along Fore Street for two blocks, between Atlantic and Waterville streets, the site of the only panoramic view of the working harbor. Development on the flat portion, which constitutes the bulk of the site, and along Fore Street west of Waterville Street, is not significantly affected.

Why has Save the Soul of Portland focused on this third of an acre? How it is developed will significantly affect how the new mixed-use development meets the Munjoy Hill neighborhood and affects the general public.

For 150 years, that stretch of upper Fore Street has provided residents and visitors with a unique, spectacular vista of the working harbor, the islands, Portland Head Light and the ocean beyond. In some places the owner has allowed it to become seasonally overgrown, but a portion is unobstructed year round, and the entire public vista is available October through June.

The rezoning, as passed, will allow the developer to replace this public vista with a wall of buildings up to 35 feet tall along the entire two-block stretch, broken only by three 50-foot gaps at the ends of Atlantic, St. Lawrence and Waterville streets, where buildings may not rise above the grade of Fore Street.


Those 50-foot gaps may allow one to see only South Portland, framed by buildings that serve as side and bottom blinders.

In contrast, the referendum seeks to preserve this iconic public view of the harbor by prohibiting buildings on top of the steep slope adjacent to Fore Street; by restricting fences, signs, landscaping and other features from impeding the public view from the sidewalk; and by requiring the 50-foot gaps to be designed so that they at least provide a view of the foreshore of the harbor.

Preserving the public view from upper Fore Street is a commitment made to the citizens in 2004 after a years-long master planning process.

The City Council and the participating public all endorsed the idea that no new development in the upper Fore Street portion of the Portland Co. site should be allowed to extend above the grade of Fore Street. That was done precisely to preserve the public view.

When the developer bought the Portland Co. site, the regulations – consistent with the city comprehensive plan – did not allow structures to be built on top of the slope along Fore Street.

The June 2 rezoning changed that, handing the developer the permission, which it never had before, to build on top of the slope, obscuring the public panoramic harbor view. The referendum would take back that option but leave intact the developer’s other benefits from the rezoning.

The referendum allows Portland residents, on behalf of the city, to restore some balance between residents and developers.

A thoughtful development strategy should allow the city to build on our strengths and protect, for the enjoyment of all, the essence of what makes Portland special. This needs to be part of a larger conversation.

Clearly, views are just one of things that make Portland special. But saving the public panorama of the working waterfront is a good place to start.

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