PORTLAND — Pier owners who are members of the city’s Waterfront Working Group said they will resist elimination of an overlay area that helps sustain them by allowing non-marine businesses on the piers.

Charlie Poole, Steve DiMillo and Mike Alfiero have been members of the WWG since it formed last December. They said they support the work being done, and making the group a permanent city committee beyond the moratorium on waterfront development that will expire June 15.

They also agree on the need to dredge the harbor and alleviate Commercial Street traffic problems.

But they dispute the need for waterfront zoning revisions.

“I could not agree more that this is for the future, but I hate the thought we are chucking it all out,” Poole said Monday about the overlay area that allows non-marine uses along in central waterfront zone.

The alarm bell sounded March 21, when Poole, DiMillo and Alfiero spoke with City Manager Jon Jennings before the WWG meeting to let him know they and other pier owners are concerned about the possible zoning revisions.

Created in 2010, the overlay area extends 150 feet back along the water side of Commercial Street, and 500 feet back on Union, Fishermen’s and Long wharves.

The overlay area does not require using 55 percent of space for marine use, as is the case throughout the rest of the zone. That allows flexibility for land use and also attracts businesses and tenants that support marine-related businesses.

“They pay rent to occupy the space that goes right to the bottom line, that helps the fishermen occupy their berths,” Poole said.

He added the $1.8 million he spent for pier improvements is an easier investment because he has tenants in the overlay zone. At most, he said, he gets $6,000 per slip annually from berth rentals.

Poole, Alfiero and DiMillo said this is not an issue that will bring an end to the WWG. But they believe there must be a better understanding of their perspective.

The overlay area and its provision that allows the City Council to approve non-permitted residential and hotel uses was the focal point of a December 2018 petition drive for a referendum that would have essentially returned zoning to the 1987 language passed by voters.

The tipping point for petition organizers was a proposed 93-room hotel on Fisherman’s Wharf. Although the drive was put on hold in January, at least 2,500 signatures were collected; only 1,500 were needed to get it on a ballot.

Developers Nathan and David Bateman withdrew their hotel zoning amendment request, which had no support from councilors, in January.

When the WWG first met, Jennings warned zoning would be the hardest part of its work. An initial proposal to simply ban the uses that could now be approved by a council vote was sent to the Planning Board for a workshop and then sent back.

No zoning changes have been forwarded since that time.

Last month, DiMillo objected to any reduction in the length of the overlay zone on Long Wharf, where he and his family own a restaurant, berthing slips and a yacht sales and service business.

“There is no compelling reason to change any language in the (overlay),” he said, adding there is no evidence its existence is pushing fishermen off the waterfront.

Alfiero, who owns Harbor Fish Market on Custom House Wharf, as well as Holyoke Wharf to the west on Commercial Street, agreed with DiMillo.

“Of course we don’t want (fishermen) pushed out,”  he said, “and we are doing everything we can to make it amenable for them to stay.”

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland wharf owners Steve DiMillo, left, Mike Alfiero and Charlie Poole said Monday they are opposed to changing an overlay zone that helps sustain marine industries by allowing non-marine tenants on the piers.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.