The Portland City Council is considering repealing development restrictions on Munjoy Hill that were put in place before the creation of a new historic district last year eased concerns about the need to slow down demolitions and preserve the existing character of the area.

Councilors met Monday to hear from planning department staff about the proposal to eliminate the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District, which was recommended by the planning board 7-0 in February.

“Part of the basis of their decision was the board at the time, in 2018, found the overlay appropriate and consistent with the comprehensive plan then,” Christine Grimando, director of planning and urban development, told the council during the workshop Monday night. “Part of their discussion was, ‘What has changed?’ and they did find that the acute circumstances that prompted the board to vote in favor of this at that time, they did not find those to still be the case.”

Some of the board’s concerns included negative impacts to housing creation and fear of too many regulatory layers in the neighborhood with the addition last year of the Munjoy Hill Historic District, Grimando said, and they found that the historic district is addressing many of the concerns that had prompted the overlay.

“They also found that some of these elements of the overlay, in terms of design and form requirements, were interesting but didn’t necessarily need to be in place just for this neighborhood,” Grimando said.

The council is expected to deliberate and vote on the repeal at its next meeting, on June 22, and councilors used Monday’s workshop to ask questions about the impact of the overlay and what a repeal would do.



Councilor Anna Trevorrow, who represents District 1, where the overlay is located, said she has heard different arguments about how the zone is impacting the affordability of housing in one of the city’s most sought-after neighborhoods.

Some people have argued that high-end development – which the overlay places some restrictions on – is driving property values and making the area less affordable for long-term residents. But others have theorized that the overlay zone is suppressing density and limiting the supply of housing, Trevorrow said. She asked if the zone is impacting affordability one way or the other.

A modern home on Quebec Street on Munjoy Hill on Tuesday, February 22, 2022. The Munjoy Hill Historic District comprises most of the neighborhood east of Washington Avenue and Mountfort Street. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

While staff do not track the affordability of existing housing units, rents and housing prices are continuing to increase in general, Grimando said. “I don’t think it’s just new construction (driving costs to increase).

“Of course there’s value in existing neighborhood stock and whether this is repealed or not, it’s not going to lead to complete turnover one way or another. I think this is about easing certain restrictions.”

She said one of the city’s goals is to increase the supply of housing, and that increasing the number of units, no matter the price point, can help. “I don’t think new development is the sole culprit for why a housing market changes and I would be wary of that final conclusion for the neighborhood,” Grimando said.


Mayor Kate Snyder questioned whether staff had a recommendation for the planning board last winter as they were deliberating the repeal. Grimando said they did not, though staff did present different options in terms of repealing the overlay, keeping it or making amendments.

“It really was something (the planning board) spearheaded and requested and we certainly approached the first workshop as, ‘We are going to lay out what it is, how it works and have a discussion,'” Grimando said. “We took sort of as even a hand as we could to let that discussion play out.”


The overlay district was adopted in 2018 in response to residents’ concerns about the scale and character of recent developments as well as about demolitions and was intended to make it more difficult to demolish some architecturally significant buildings and to better ensure that new buildings are built in a similar style, size and scale to those that already exist.

It includes the general area east of Washington Avenue and Mountfort Street, north of Fore Street and west of the Eastern Promenade, and encompasses the Munjoy Hill Historic District. There are no proposed changes to the protections provided by the historic district, which protects historic buildings from demolition and requires that new construction, alterations and additions comply with the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance standards.

Some of the restrictions that would be eliminated in the broader area of the overlay include requirements that newly constructed buildings not exceed 35 feet in height or 45 feet for multiunit 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 underlying R-6 zoning, which is what the area would revert to if the district is repealed, calls for a height limit of 45 feet for new construction.


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 to explore alternatives.


In February, the planning board voted 7-0 in favor of repealing the overlay, citing changes in circumstances, including the creation in April 2021 of the Munjoy Hill Historic District, and concerns about the need for more housing and the overlay hindering development. The board heard from members of the public both for and against the overlay.

Developer Tim Wells told the board that putting the overlay in place was a “knee-jerk reaction” to new investments on the hill and urged its repeal. “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.

But Sarah Hansen, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks, testified to the planning board that pulling the overlay is premature and that the loss of the demolition delay provision 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 at the board’s February meeting.

In an email Monday, Wayne Valzania, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, said the group is in support of leaving the overlay in place and reviewing it as part of the city’s ongoing review of land-use code, called ReCode Portland.

“Many reasons have been presented specific to affordable housing, rapidly rising property values in District 1, far outpacing other districts, and the threat that unfettered development poses to the architectural fabric of Munjoy Hill,” Valzania said. “It seems unwise to further destabilize legacy home ownership, provision of affordable housing units, and the relevance of Munjoy Hill other than as a profitable development opportunity.”

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