A group of residents calling themselves “Save the Soul of Portland” submitted more than 2,500 signatures at City Hall on Monday in an effort to stop a proposed development on the eastern waterfront from affecting views along upper Fore Street.

Anne Rand, the group’s spokeswoman, said the group took the step of initiating a citywide referendum this November “reluctantly and as a last resort” to preserve the “much-beloved views of the working waterfront and harbor” overlooking 58 Fore St., which is scheduled for redevelopment.

“We learned our lesson when we lost Union Station,” Rand said of the once magnificent train station on St. John Street that was demolished in 1961 to make way for a strip mall.

She also noted how residents in 1989 voted to ban the construction of residential condos along the waterfront. “We know that protecting our cultural and natural assets is up to us, because unfortunately our city has failed to do so.”

Local developers Jim Brady and Casey Prentice, who along with Kevin Costello make up CPB2, bought the Portland Co. complex for $14 million in 2013 from Phineas Sprague Jr. They say that passing the referendum would doom the project.

Brady said in a written statement that developers are ready for the upcoming campaign to preserve the project, which they and city staff say is consistent with the 2008 Eastern Waterfront Master Plan. That plan was developed with extensive public input and adopted as part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

Brady said the redevelopment will bring “a vibrant and diverse mix of uses, encouraging public access to the waterfront, and year-round enjoyment for all of the Portland community.”

“Soul of Portland’s referendum will not only kill the 58 Fore St. project, but other thoughtful development as well, and in a time of housing supply issues and budgetary shortfalls, this referendum is both shortsighted and detrimental to all of Portland’s residents,” Brady said. “We’re building a strong, broad-based coalition committed to defeating the referendum.”

The City Council voted 7-2 on June 2 to rezone the 10-acre property and complex of buildings, which date back to the mid-1800s, after a two-hour public hearing that showed strong support and opposition. The complex has national significance, according to one study, as the nation’s first and only remaining site where all aspects of manufacturing railroad equipment – from the foundry to the machine shops – were housed in a single facility.

Developers have not submitted formal plans for the site because the redevelopment program will depend largely on the underlying zoning and efforts to establish a historic district on the site. Last week, the city’s Historic Preservation Board recommended a historic designation to the Planning Board, which is charged with sending a recommendation to the City Council. The developers have expressed a desire to protect the “historic core.”

In December, developers showed the Press Herald a concept plan that included residential buildings, offices and a Faneuil Hall-style marketplace. The existing Eastern Prom Trail would be preserved and possibly moved closer to the water.

Save the Soul of Portland launched the petition drive before the council vote, which allows for buildings as tall as 65 feet on the lower portions of the site and buildings as tall as 35 feet along Fore Street. Developers agreed to prohibit bars and restaurants along Fore Street to address neighborhood concerns about traffic and noise.

City code already requires four 50-foot-wide view corridors overlooking the water at St. Lawrence, Atlantic, Kellogg and Waterville streets to be preserved.

But Save the Soul of Portland is looking to designate views along Fore Street as distinctive, create an overlay zone to prevent any buildings from breaking the Fore Street plain, and require all developers to fully disclose their redevelopment plans before seeking a zone change.

The referendum campaign is the latest reaction of residents to real estate development. Residents reversed the sale of a portion of Congress Square plaza to the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, which wanted to build an event center. A group of Deering Center residents forced a developer to scale back a senior housing project at the Catherine McAuley High School property on Stevens Avenue.

Last year, the Keep Portland Livable group filed a lawsuit against a Miami-based developer after it received permission to build four 14-story residential towers on Somerset Street. The developer, Federated Cos., scaled back the proposal to avoid the lawsuit, but there are now questions about whether anything will be built on the site.

Save the Soul of Portland formally registered as a political action committee on June 10 and reportedly raised $1,400, most of which came from people who live directly across the street and whose views would be affected. Rand said Save the Soul of Portland is not anti-development, and she doesn’t fear that opposition will cause a similar fate for the Portland Co. complex. She believes that developers should not have spent all of that money on a property with the expectation of receiving a zone change.

“I do not believe that parcel of land will remain undeveloped,” Rand said. “It’s the last most magnificent piece of waterfront land that is undeveloped. We don’t think it will stop development at all.”

Once the petitions are certified by the city as being signed by at least 1,500 Portland voters, the council will hold a public hearing about placing the question on the November ballot. The group expects the public hearing to take place on Aug. 3.


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