On Nov. 16, the Portland City Council will continue considering the unanimous recommendation of the Portland Historic Preservation Board for the establishment of a local historic district comprising a portion of Munjoy Hill.

There are many reasons why this proposal should be approved by the City Council.

• The proposed historic district is a conservative delineation of authentic neighborhood collections of Portland 19th-century vernacular residential architecture. It is based on a careful architectural survey by an independent expert and covers less than half of Munjoy Hill.

• The district includes homes from the time of building of the Grand Trunk Railway in the mid-1800s; homes built shortly after the Great Fire of 1866; homes of 19th-century Black Portlanders, and homes of immigrants from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. These blend in an eclectic cityscape that is still remarkably intact. It is one thing to preserve the monumental residences of Portland’s wealthy of bygone days. Here, Portland has the opportunity to preserve the homes and neighborhoods of people of the middle and working classes who otherwise would be all too easily forgotten.

• The district will help preserve 19th-century streetscapes on Munjoy Hill such as North Street, Beckett Street and the Eastern Promenade from ill-considered and jarring demolitions or redevelopments. Once broken by out-of-scale or insensitive new construction, such streetscapes can never be restored.

Protection of the existing traditional residential structures within the district will tend to keep affordable housing from being razed to be replaced by high-end condominium blocks. In 2015, the R-6 zone was liberalized to permit multi-family new construction on very small lots, such as those on Munjoy Hill.  The current overheated real estate market incentivizes developers to purchase existing one- to three-family wood-frame homes on the Hill, demolish them and replace them with multiple-unit luxury condominium blocks. The district will give some protection to existing contributing structures and the homes that they contain.

• Portland has a well-established record of success, with its existing 11 historic districts, which cover a large portion of the land area on the Portland peninsula. These districts enjoy the support of their landowners and residents and have functioned well to preserve Portland’s historical architecture and the amenity of its neighborhoods.

• The great majority of property owners and residents on Munjoy Hill support this measure. Residents and property owners turned out in large numbers at neighborhood meetings, workshops and Historic Preservation and Planning Board hearings to declare their support for this proposal. The Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization as well as a good 80 percent of those who have expressed themselves orally or in writing are strongly in favor of the district.

• The proposed historic district will implement the many provisions of Portland’s comprehensive plan that favor maintenance and enhancement of our city’s historic past.

• Owners of contributing buildings within the district will be eligible for federal and Maine income tax credits of up to 30 percent of the cost of exterior restoration or adaptive reuse of their properties. This assistance can help maintain affordable homes within the district.

• The historic district will support the amenity of Munjoy Hill as an attraction to visitors and a desirable place for Portlanders to live and work. In recent years Portland residents and tourists alike have been increasingly drawn to Munjoy Hill. Its picturesque and approachable streetscapes maintain antique charm that appeals to people of all ages today. The historic district will help maintain the atmosphere and amenity that is making our neighborhood a desirable place to visit and live.

The remarkable collection of 19th- and early 20th-century wood-frame residential architecture on Munjoy Hill is a vital amenity of our beloved city. The relatively conservative proposal before the council will help preserve this heritage for the enjoyment of Portland residents and visitors alike as well as for future generations.

Here’s hoping that the Portland City Council will enthusiastically adopt the recommendation of the Historic Preservation Board and establish the Munjoy Hill Historic District.


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