A Portland city councilor wants to enact a two-month moratorium on development projects directly abutting public open space in the East End in an effort to protect an “iconic view” of Maine’s largest city and surrounding area.

The proposal is designed to protect the view at Fort Sumner Park, a popular area on North Street with a sweeping westward view of the city, Back Cove and Mount Washington in the distance. The 1.25-acre park is a popular gathering spot to view sunsets.

The moratorium would give the city time to decide whether it wants to restrict heights on a proposed development, or purchase the land from the developer.

Although no plans have been filed with the city, Saulnier Development, which has offices in Maine and Massachusetts, is looking to build a six-story condominium on Sheridan Street that would rise in front of the park on North Street, which is one street east. The project wouldn’t require a zoning change.

Initial plans shown to neighborhood leaders would have blocked most of the view of Back Cove from the park, but the developer has since tweaked the proposal to reduce the impact on the view.

City Councilor Belinda Ray, who represents the district, said she will ask her fellow city councilors to enact a 60-day moratorium so the city can consider adopting regulations that would prevent the condo development from changing the park’s “essential character.”

At last Wednesday’s council meeting, Ray said she would seek the council’s approval on Oct. 17. The proposal has received the support of at least three council members, including Mayor Ethan Strimling.

“This park is indeed a special place,” Ray said at Wednesday’s council meeting. “It’s an iconic place in Portland.”

The project comes during a development boom in Portland. While some people hope new developments will help solve the city’s housing crisis, with a shortage of units and high demand driving up rents, other longtime residents are worried that new luxury apartment buildings and condos, especially on the East End, will ruin Portland’s charm and eventually force them out of the city.

That growth has lead to two citywide referendums to protect open space.

Last year, voters overwhelming rejected a citizen initiative to put a scenic protection ordinance on the books. That effort, however, was focused on limiting heights at the former Portland Co. complex, which is poised to be redeveloped into a six-block urban neighborhood.

In 2014, residents saved Congress Square Park from being developed into an events center.

On Monday, Ray said that she hoped any protections for Fort Sumner Park could be adopted for parks in other neighborhoods. For example, she noted that “an essential character” of Baxter Woods is its wildlife habitat.

“It’s not just about views,” she said. “Certain parks have certain assets.”

Saulnier has offered to sell the roughly half-acre development site to the city. Consultant Patrick Venne said the developer offered the land for $1.5 million, or just aerial rights for the upper floors for an undisclosed price.

City Manager Jon Jennings said Monday evening that he has had several discussions with the developer about acquiring the land, but he offered neither support nor opposition. It would be up to the council to make the final decision, Jennings said.

“We did not discuss the price in any great detail,” Jennings said. “There are options on the table. We’ll discuss all of these possibilities should the moratorium pass.”

Jay Norris, president on the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, commended developers for scaling back the proposal to try and address community concerns, but many people in the neighborhood are opposed to any obstruction of the view.

“The changes are dramatic,” Norris said, “but this is still a hard sell, not only to the community, but also to the City Council and the people of Portland.”

On Monday evening, the board of the neighborhood association voted to support efforts to designate Fort Sumner Park a historic landmark, while calling on the city to deny approvals for any project that would compromise that view, Norris said.

The proposed moratorium has the support of North Street residents Tom and Erika Larrabee, who were visiting the park with family members from out of town.

“I like the view the way it is now,” said Tom Larrabee, 30.

“We’ve been here twice in two days because it’s so beautiful,” said Faye Daum, 54, who was visiting from Pennsylvania.

Jay Tansey, who was visiting the park with his 21-month-old son, Jack, agreed, even though he understands that more housing is needed in the city. “The sunsets here are gorgeous,” said Tansey, 31, who lives on Montreal Street. “To take away from that and the natural beauty is unfortunate.”

West Virginia residents Mary and Jeff Taylor had only been in town for a few hours before Cliff Ives decided to take them to Fort Sumner Park, where they could see landmarks like City Hall, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the Back Cove and Mount Washington.

“This is a nice place to come and look and show friends from away the city,” said Ives, 78, who lives in North Deering. He believes the most recent design is headed in the right direction but still needs work.

Bernie Saulnier, of Saulnier Development, first met with neighborhood leaders this summer to discuss his plans for 155 Sheridan St. At the time, the six-story, 65,000-square-foot building would have blotted out the view of the Back Cove and northward. Opposition was immediate, prompting residents to collect petition signatures and call on the city to designate the park a historic landmark.

Saulnier continued to meet with board members of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization. He eliminated 3,000 square feet from the upper three floors, but that design still would have blocked the northernmost portion of Back Cove. Another revision added back a full fourth floor while stepping back the upper two floors even further, but the design still appears to block views of Mount Washington.

Consultant Patrick Venne, who is representing Saulnier, said in an Oct. 6 letter to the City Council that a moratorium should only be used when the current process is not adequate to protect the community from “serious public harm.” In this case, Saulnier has been meeting with neighbors and revising plans before even submitting a formal application with the city, he said.

“(The) existing means of addressing concerns have been proceeding exceptionally well – and the formal review process hasn’t even started,” Venne said, noting that the 34-unit project has now become a 30-unit project.

Strimling said he supports the proposed moratorium as a way to protect “one of the most precious views in the city.”

“I’ve said from the beginning, we can’t block that view,” Strimling said. “The developer has not yet heard that in a way that satisfies us. Hopefully he will.”

Councilors Jon Hinck and Edward Suslovic said they supported the moratorium as well since it was limited in scope. Councilor David Brenerman said he is undecided and needed to study it more. Brenerman said he’s “sympathetic” to area residents, but is concerned about setting a precedent.

Other city councilors could not be reached for comment Monday.

Strimling said the council may be asked to waive a first reading of the proposed moratorium at Monday’s meerting, which would allow them to vote after holding a public hearing.

Correction: This story was updated on the morning of Oct. 11 to correct a photo caption that inaccurately described how the project would impact the view.

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