Portland city councilors postponed making a decision late Monday night about zoning changes to protect the city’s working waterfront.

Councilors didn’t start consideration of a host of zoning changes in the Waterfront Central Zone, which spans the water side of Commercial Street from the Maine State Pier to the International Marine Terminal, until 10 p.m. Monday.

It came after a three-hour public hearing about relocating the city’s homeless shelter.

During public comment, pier owners urged the council not to reduce the amount of land they can develop for non-marine uses along Commercial Street, saying such activity generates much-needed revenue to maintain their piers.

Fishermen and waterfront advocates, however, said additional restrictions are needed to protect a variety of marine-dependent uses, such as fishing and cargo shipping.

The proposed changes stem from a proposal by David Batemen to build a hotel, with other uses, on Fisherman’s Wharf. The proposal ignited a citywide referendum drive to tighten up zoning along the waterfront.


Bateman agreed to pull the hotel from the development plan. City Manager Jon Jennings appointed a working group of pier owners and fishermen to discuss possible changes. And activists shelved their referendum to give the city a chance to make changes to address development pressure, a lack of parking and an increase in traffic congestion along Commercial Street.

The only major point of disagreement Monday night was over the so-called Non-Marine Overlay Zone. That’s an area that generally extends 150 feet from Commercial Street toward the water, with the exception of Long, Fishermen and Union wharves, where it’s 500 feet from Commercial.

Roger Hale, an owner of Deake’s Wharf, urged the council not to overreact to one proposal.

“The Batemans wanted to use their property and everyone went into hysterics,” Hale said. “They withdrew their plans but the hysteria was already there. And here we are reacting to hysteria.”

Fishermen and advocates disputed that characterization.

“We’re down to the bare minimum,” lobsterman Keith Lane said. “If the non-marine uses continue to creep down the wharves you will see your fishing industry disappear.”


The working group had recommended reducing the overlay zone to 125 feet from Commercial Street, including Union and Fishermen’s Wharf. An exception would be Long Wharf, where it would be 300 feet.

The Planning Board did not recommend that plan and instead recommended leaving the overlay zone as it is. City Councilor Belinda Ray offered an amendment to enact the working group’s recommendations, but no vote was taken.

Additional restrictions, enacted in 2010, apply to areas outside the overlay zone on the ends of the piers. For example, 55 percent of the ground-floor area of piers must have a marine-dependent use. And all ground-floor vacancies must be advertised for marine uses for a certain period.

Those would be strengthened under the proposal before the council, which among other things would prohibit new restaurants and retail stores on piers along its working waterfront.

Nathaniel Bateman said his family should be given at least the same 300-foot considerations as Long Wharf, which is owned by the DiMillo family. He suggested his family is being punished for trying to take advantage of current zoning rules.

“We just expect to be treated equally at the end of the day,” Bateman said. “This has not only become spot zoning, but personality zoning.”

The city is studying traffic issues along Commercial Street and is looking to help finance pier-related upgrades, including dredging.

Councilors did not discuss the issue after the 80-minute public hearing. Instead, they postponed action until their June 17 meeting.

A moratorium on development runs out on June 15, but city attorney Danielle West-Chuhta said the zoning changes would be retroactive to the 15th, if passed as an emergency, which takes seven of the nine councilors voting in support.

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