Greater Portland Landmarks strongly supports the designation of the Munjoy Hill Historic District. The proposed historic district, initiated by the city in 2018, will conserve buildings that tell unique and diverse stories of Portland’s past and will enhance Munjoy Hill’s future as a dense, walkable and diverse neighborhood.

After much study and extensive public involvement, the Historic Preservation Board and a majority of the Planning Board correctly found that the recommended district meets the criteria for designation identified in the historic preservation ordinance. There is a compelling level of public support for this designation. Over 80 percent of both public written and oral comments are in favor of the district.

There is a tremendous need for housing in Portland. Critics claim that a new historic district will exacerbate these struggles, but historic districts have accommodated more than 40 percent of new housing units developed in the last five years, despite making up only 8 percent of Portland’s land mass. Historic districts help protect market-rate and affordable housing by discouraging expensive demolition and new construction for luxury condos, and historic designation provides access to tax credits and funding opportunities that incentivize housing development. In the last five years, more than 400 new units of housing have been approved or built in the West End, Deering Street, India Street and Congress Street local historic districts, as well as in individually designated historic buildings.

Our city’s commitment to historic preservation successfully strikes a balance between historic and modern that is attractive to businesses, residents and tourists alike. The adoption of the Munjoy Hill Historic District will ensure that balance continues in the eastern end of the city, an area under aggressive development pressure that is as historically significant as already-designated districts. The proposed boundaries encompass buildings representing key periods of development activity that tell the stories of working-class families, immigrants and a robust African American community living and working on Munjoy Hill for generations.

Historic districts do not impede new development. Portland’s historic preservation ordinance allows for alterations and new construction at a variety of scales. These new additions within historic districts enhance our city’s streetscapes and accommodate new residential and commercial growth. Building additions, accessory dwelling units and new construction are all ways that historic districts accommodate diverse housing options, without destroying the character and history of our city’s neighborhoods.

Preservation in Portland plays a vital role in stabilizing neighborhoods while protecting and encouraging new housing and small businesses. Portland’s Plan 2030 goals include protecting the city’s authenticity, enhancing our sustainability and increasing housing units. Historic preservation supports all those goals. Historic places directly contribute to the livability of Portland by protecting the human scale of dense, walkable neighborhoods and engaging the community in the design approval process.

Historic preservation is also a tool to make our city more sustainable. Reuse of historic buildings reduces resource and material consumption, puts less waste in landfills and consumes less energy than demolishing entire buildings and constructing new ones. In addition, the city’s historic preservation program has approved environmentally friendly building systems like heat pumps and solar panels in the West End and India Street historic districts. The Historic Preservation Board also recently approved solar panels and a green roof installation on Munjoy Hill in their role as design reviewers under the temporary protections of the designation process.

Greater Portland Landmarks was founded on the understanding that Portland’s future is brighter if it builds upon the rich social, cultural and architectural character of its past. Historic preservation is not about freezing any community in time – it is about keeping buildings alive, in active use and responsive to the needs of the community. All of us benefit from historic buildings and neighborhoods. The proposed historic district will preserve the best things about Munjoy Hill: a dense, walkable neighborhood; buildings that reflect the diversity of Portland’s history; neighborhood stability, and an engaged community. On Monday, we look to the City Council to support the interests of the entire city of Portland and approve the Munjoy Hill Historic District.

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