Zoning regulations for Portland’s western waterfront are designed to “ensure the continued viability of the Port of Portland,” so you might assume developers of a cold-storage warehouse would be asked: What will be stored there?

You’d be wrong. Portland’s Planning Board never posed that question before approving the massive warehouse last week. City Planning Director Christine Grimando said the board had no authority to consider warehouse cargo “composition.” Zero percent maritime or 100 percent – either’s fine.

But waterfront zoning prohibits warehouses “primarily for handling and storage of goods transported by tractor-trailers.” Doesn’t that mean most of the cargo cannot travel round-trip by truck? Not according to City Hall’s artful interpretation of zoning language that was revised three years ago, giving developers a 66 percent height increase.

Back then, one Planning Board member smelled the linguistic equivalent of a dead fish. “What I don’t want to see is this turned into a truck and train cold-storage facility, and I’m afraid we’re leaving the door wide open for that,” said David Eaton. ” … If we’re going to have a marine-use zone we should enforce that.”

Almost no one else at City Hall pushed back against the unraveling of marine-use constraints. Soon we’ll have a “marine” warehouse with 90-plus percent of its cargo arriving and leaving by truck. A smaller facility on site for marine cargo, with another non-marine warehouse off-peninsula near rail and highway connections, not only would have honored zoning requirements but also would have ranked livability over profit. Too much to ask?

Jo Coyne

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