From time to time, preservationists are accused of only looking backward. Instead, I would argue we take the long view: forward into the future with an awareness of our past. The impulses of today in hindsight may be unwise choices and should be thoughtfully considered. One of the most compelling and widely acknowledged examples here in Portland is the demolition of Union Station for the construction of the Union Station Plaza strip mall.

The proposed historic district is part of an integrated planning solution for Munjoy Hill that has been studied and debated since 2018. The Portland City Council narrowly rejected the proposal in February but later voted to reconsider the plan and is scheduled to take it up again Monday. Photo by Corey Templeton

The Portland City Council tasked planning staff to pursue a historic district on Munjoy Hill as part of a suite of land use strategies when it approved zoning changes in June 2018.

Historic district designation, covering less than 50 percent of the neighborhood, will protect some, but not all, of the neighborhood’s buildings from demolition, allowing growth to happen both within and outside the proposed boundaries. Historic district designation will ensure that new construction projects within its boundaries have a contextual relationship to the neighborhood, while still clearly being of their own time. It will also provide a forum for residents to participate in proposed changes in their neighborhood. In the months since interim protections were put into place, projects on Munjoy Hill have been reviewed and approved that expand the number of housing units in historic buildings, improve life safety and accessibility and incorporate solar energy technology.

We strongly believe that those buildings identified as contributing to the potential historic district on Munjoy Hill are as important to telling Portland’s story as the large brick mansions on the Western Promenade, the early homes in Stroudwater and the many commercial buildings in the city’s Waterfront and Congress Street districts. Recognizing the significance of Munjoy Hill’s working-class and immigrant history and the impact its residents had on Portland’s development, is critical to understanding the full story of Portland.

Our job here at Greater Portland Landmarks is to continue to advocate for these historic places so they will not disappear, as we work collaboratively with the community to help determine how our history responds to and meets our evolving needs.

The proposed historic district will not prevent the change that is happening on Munjoy Hill, but in conjunction with other land use tools approved by the City Council in 2018, it will help to manage and guide that growth. Change in any neighborhood is inevitable, and change is regularly happening in each of Portland’s historic districts. Landmarks has and will continue to support thoughtful change, whether it be new housing, mixed commercial development or energy-efficiency upgrades. Portland’s Plan 2030 goals emphasize the stewardship of Portland’s historic, cultural and architectural assets.
 This plan recognizes that these assets and the authenticity of our
 neighborhoods are essential to Portland’s livability and the economic vitality of our entrepreneurial economy.

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The city does not have to choose between historic preservation protections and zoning reforms. Both are needed and recognized as critical components of the city’s comprehensive planning goals.

The proposed historic district is part of an integrated planning solution for Munjoy Hill that has been studied and debated for more than three years.

The prolonged designation review process, begun by the City Council in 2018, has involved extensive public education and input. Public support from property owners and renters within the district’s boundaries and across the city is extraordinarily high, with 80 percent of public comments offered to the Historic Preservation Board, Planning Board and City Council supporting this designation.

It is time to approve the proposed Munjoy Hill Historic District.


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