A small group of residents is trying to preserve the view from Fort Sumner Park on Munjoy Hill in Portland by getting a historic landmark status for the space.

The group’s request appears to be a reaction to a developer’s plan to construct a condo building on a street below the promontory that some worry could obstruct a vista that overlooks the Portland skyline and Back Cove.

A landmark designation could protect the view by requiring city officials to consider if it would be affected by nearby development.

“We would like to see the magnificent view preserved in its entirety, the experience of visiting it undiminished and signage providing the fort’s history and points of interest in the view located in the park,” a group of residents wrote in a letter to the city’s Historic Preservation Board.

The movement to protect the park view is the latest resistance to new housing construction by residents alarmed at the pace and style of development. Last year, a group of Munjoy Hill residents pushed a citizens referendum for an ordinance making it harder for developers to put up buildings that would block scenic views. The referendum, sparked by a proposed redevelopment of the former Portland Co. complex on the city’s eastern waterfront, was defeated by voters last November.

But opposition to construction that could block the park’s stunning view is distinct from last year’s referendum because it is a public space, said Belinda Ray, who represents the East End on the City Council. The space has been referred to as “Portland’s rooftop garden,” Ray said.


“This is a public, open space that is accessible to everyone in the city, everyone who visits the city. I think that makes it a special place,” she said.

Last month, developer Bernie Saulnier floated plans to build a six-story condo complex on Sheridan Street, below the park’s steep drop-off. If built as designed, the building would rise above the park’s sight line and block the view of Back Cove, Ray said.

In an interview Friday, Saulnier said it was too early to discuss the impact of a building because no plan has been submitted to the city.

Still, Saulnier is keenly aware that opposition is brewing. He has presented the proposal to the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization and Ray. After those discussions, he is creating a new design to keep the view intact, Saulnier said.

“They are all for development, but they want to preserve their views and preserve what they have there and we are going to come to the same goal,” Saulnier said.

The letter to the Historic Preservation Board was signed by six residents, including Anne Rand, spokeswoman for Save the Soul of Portland, the group that proposed the scenic views ordinance last year. The group is no longer active, according to its Facebook page, but it links to another group called Save Fort Sumner Park. Rand did not respond to a phone call Friday.


Petitioners are scheduled to present their request at the Historic Preservation Board meeting Wednesday.

In order to move forward, however, two board members will have to nominate the park for designation. Then the board will need to determine if the park qualifies for landmark status, and vote to recommend its designation to the City Council, which has final approval on nominations.

Landmark status would not necessarily prevent a developer from building near the park, said Historic Preservation Program Manager Deb Andrews. But if a development was proposed within 100 feet of a landmark, the Planning Board would have to weigh the impact on the historic site as part of its project review, she said.

In this case, the view itself might be the element of the park considered.

“It was open, and it affords these expansive views of the city. That is the reason it was chosen as part of the fortifications, because it was strategic,” Andrews said.

The park was the site of Fort Sumner, an earth-and-timber fortification built in 1794 to guard Portland Harbor and Back Cove. It was connected to a battery of 10 cannons sited in the area near the modern day Munjoy South Apartments on Mountfort Street, said Herb Adams, a local historian and a signatory to the landmark request.


The fort was a recruiting station during the War of 1812 and was decommissioned soon thereafter because more advanced fortifications were built around the city, Adams said. A gymnasium was later established in the fort, but Adams said he didn’t know when the structure was removed.

It’s clear, however, that generations of Portland residents have enjoyed the park’s vista. In 1940 the city even removed a gazebo to ensure an unobstructed view across the city, Adams said.

“I believe that the more of these things that are in protection, the better,” he said. “Times change, money talks, standards change. It is best to protect what you can for very good reasons when you can.”


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