Bug Light is in trouble again.

The proposal to develop the former shipyard in South Portland, known as The Yard South, would include four 18-story residential towers that would be among the tallest in Maine.  Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer, File

The Ferry Village neighborhood next door is in trouble, too, as are Southern Maine Community College and all the surrounding neighborhoods in South Portland.

This time it’s not about toxic tar-sands fumes from towers on the Portland Pipe Line piers next to Bug Light Park. But this trouble is also related to towers: four proposed 18-story residential towers, 180 feet tall, requiring a zoning change. These new towers would be among the highest in Maine. Near the water and the boat launch, buildings of this scale would loom over Bug Light and fill the area with people who drive cars.

The proposed development is called The Yard South. There are extensive plans in addition to the towers: a new, 30-acre town within our Ferry Village, which would require creating a contract zone within the current shipyard zone to allow such massive housing. The project location on the harbor also would require adherence to the mandatory water’s edge restrictions, in what’s known as the shoreland zone.

At this time, when housing around the world is moving away from the shores because of the rising waters, it defies reason that South Portland would consider corrupting its shipyard zoning to allow 180-foot residential towers near our harbor shore. It is predicted by the Maine Climate Council that as much as an 8-foot, 8-inch sea-level rise will flood our harbor by 2100. Storm surges will make everything even worse.

Another major concern would be the additional thousands of car trips; many units would be likely to have more than one car. With little onsite parking proposed, those cars would have to park somewhere else. Would that somewhere else include nearby Bug Light Park or the boat launch?


With SMCC’s 6,000 students coming and going; cars and boats on trailers going to and from the Bug Light boat launch; the hundreds of households on both sides of often-clogged two-lane Broadway; the nonstop parade of oil tank trucks; two schools within two blocks of each other, and the planned expansion of the Betsy Ross House, it would be gridlock as the narrow Ferry Village, Meetinghouse Hill and Willard streets fill with cars.

There could be serious conflicts with fast-moving cars and the many families with children, bikes and dogs who enjoy walking along or on those dense, narrow neighborhood streets, some without sidewalks. And what would happen to airplanes turning into the harbor at Bug Light? Would the Federal Aviation Administration classify towers that tall as “hazards”?

Would South Portland really approve of family housing built on historically contaminated land, with oil tank fumes blowing in windows and on children playing outdoors? These problems are thought to be the reason hoteliers decided not to build there.

Surely there are scores of places in South Portland where such a dense housing model would be much safer and more appropriate with walkability to amenities and services, public transit and sufficient traffic capacity. A letter published in this newspaper last fall suggested that under-used mall parking lots should be explored for housing (“Letter to the editor: Build housing in empty parking lots,” Oct. 20). Another possible suitable location to be explored could be the Mill Creek shopping area.

Even if all of these concerns weren’t enough, all of us should be concerned about this plan’s seeming lack of respect for that rare, nearly vacant working waterfront interface there. As food and electricity increasingly come from the sea, aquaculture and sea windmills, this head of harbor access to the bay becomes especially valuable and should be wisely managed for the greater good.

I hope that the city of South Portland, known for its progressive leadership, will reject this massive, unsafe and unwise project as it is described so far.

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