Portland is moving ahead with a proposal to repeal restrictions aimed at addressing development concerns in the area around a new historic district on Munjoy Hill, one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods.

On Tuesday the planning board voted 7-0 to recommend to the City Council that it repeal the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District. Established in 2018, the district restricts demolitions and establishes design standards in the area east of Washington Avenue and Mountfort Street, north of Fore Street and west of the Eastern Promenade.

The overlay district encompasses the Munjoy Hill Historic District, but there are no proposed changes to the historic district itself and all historic district protections would remain.

“I think our environment has changed enough that I have no problem finding that in 2018 (the overlay) likely was needed, but given the change in circumstances with the Green New Deal, the historic district, the economy, COVID and our housing crunch, I have no problem recommending we repeal this,” board Vice Chair Brandon Mazer said.

The board’s recommendation will go to the City Council for final approval.

About a dozen people weighed in during a public hearing before the vote, voicing support both for and against the overlay. Residents also stressed the need for more affordable housing and questioned whether the overlay is helping or hurting that effort.


Mike Hoover, a resident of Melbourne Street, urged the board to keep the overlay and consider changes as part of the city’s ongoing review of land use code, called ReCode Portland. He said the current development trends on Munjoy Hill are for large condos that are not architecturally compatible with the surrounding neighborhood and not affordable for most residents.

“Clearly the development patterns are broken on Munjoy Hill,” Hoover said. “The elimination of the overlay will only make things worse.”

Sarah Hansen, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks, told the board that pulling the overlay is premature and that the loss of the demolition delay provision, which allows for a delay of up to 12 months before the demolition of certain buildings, would be detrimental.

“Removing the only form of protection for historic structures on over half of Munjoy Hill will not only negatively impact this dense district, it will remove the opportunity for thoughtful review and analysis that is helping shape the future of the eastern peninsula,” Hansen said.

However, Tim Wells, who received approval in December to develop a four-story, 12-unit condo on Willis Street, said that putting the overlay in place was a “knee-jerk reaction” to new investments on the hill and urged the board to repeal it. “If you want to see Portland have more homes built, you care about protecting the environment, you envision a city that is vibrant, sustainable, walkable and where citizens embrace public transport, then you cannot support the COD,” Wells said.

Board members said they based their decision on changes in circumstances, including the creation of the new historic district in April 2021, as well as concerns the overlay is hindering development.


Board member Sean Dundon said the city’s Green New Deal, which addresses energy efficiency standards for new construction, combined with rent control, the escalation of construction costs and other things have slowed development. “If nothing is built, we’re not going to get any affordable units, and what we’re seeing is nothing being built,” Dundon said. “We’re a city. We have to grow to survive and we’re not growing, especially in this particular neighborhood.”


Mazer said that while there are different opinions on whether the overlay was intended from the beginning to be an interim measure, he remembered it being approved as “sort of a stopgap” while the council considered creating the historic district. He also said the overlay isn’t fair to other residential areas around the city. “This policy seems inherently inequitable to me,” Mazer said. “This is singling out a certain area of the city … an area that really needs to be the most dense – denser than it is.”

The overlay was originally adopted in 2018 as the city weighed whether to create a historic district in the neighborhood and was meant to address concerns about the rate of demolitions and character of new development.

The historic district, which is about half the size of the overlay, includes portions of Munjoy Hill that exhibit the strongest concentration of historic structures in good condition. The district protects historic buildings from demolition and requires that new construction, alterations and additions comply with the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance standards.

All of the standards of the overlay, with the exception of demolition delay provisions, also apply in the historic district.

Some of the restrictions include requirements that newly constructed buildings not exceed 35 feet in height or 45 feet for for multi-unit buildings on lots of at least 2,000 square feet that also include at least one “workforce housing unit” to be rented or sold to a household earning 80 percent or less of the area median income. The overlay also includes design standards such as requiring “simple, traditional roof forms,” active living space on the first floor and parking located on the side or rear of the building.

And it provides for a delay of up to 12 months on the demolition of certain buildings the planning board would like to see considered for preservation to allow time to explore alternatives to demolition. The demolition delay provisions don’t apply in the historic district, where most landmark or “contributing structures” deemed to be of historic significance are already protected from demolition.

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