Tim Wells, lead developer on the 19 Willis St. project, stands at the site Thursday. Wells is disappointed that the decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will delay progress on the four-story, 12-unit building he is hoping to build along Willis and Montreal streets. “It’s all legal and was done correctly, and this project is going to be a great project for the city of Portland,” he said. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A legal fight over a condominium development in Portland’s historic Munjoy Hill neighborhood is dragging on after Maine’s highest court sent a planning board decision back to the city to justify why the project should move forward.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday vacated a Cumberland County Superior Court decision upholding the city’s approval of the proposed project at 19 Willis St.

The development originally drew attention for its location in a highly sought-after area that in recent years has been the subject of debate over development and historic preservation. It was one of the first multiunit housing projects proposed under new development rules on Munjoy Hill, though those restrictions have since been repealed.

Neighbors appealed the planning board’s unanimous 2021 decision, arguing that the project failed to meet height, setback and historic preservation design-review requirements under city code. They then appealed to the state’s high court after the Superior Court upheld the planning board’s decision.

But the high court, which sits as the Law Court when it hears appeals, ruled that there wasn’t enough evidence for the justices to “meaningfully review” the board’s decision and ordered the Superior Court to remand the case back to the board.

“Although the planning board concluded generally that the proposed development met the code’s site plan, subdivision, and inclusionary-zoning standards, the planning board did not include any specific findings related to the challenges that the neighbors raised,” the ruling states.


It’s not yet clear what the planning board’s review will look like.

“The planning board will need to wait for the Superior Court’s order on remand before it can take further action on the matter,” city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said in an email.

She said the city did not have additional comment on the case.

Planning board Chair Brandon Mazer said in an email Thursday that he had not yet had a chance to fully review the court’s decision.

“Once we receive the order from the Superior Court we will work to get it on a planning board agenda to address the issues raised by the Law Court,” he said.

Tim Wells, the lead developer for the project, is frustrated by the high court’s ruling, which he expects will delay progress on the planned four-story, 12-unit building he is hoping to build along Willis and Montreal streets.


Construction hasn’t started yet, and Wells is waiting for the court case to be resolved and for the planning board to sign off on the project again.

“It’s all legal and was done correctly, and this project is going to be a great project for the city of Portland,” he said.


Wells called the lawsuit a “nuisance suit” intended to delay and add costs to the project. “Part of the reason this was brought forward is to slow down the effort of bringing new housing to Maine and developing smarter in ways that protect the environment and bring more housing,” Wells said.

Elizabeth Boepple, an attorney representing the neighbors who brought the lawsuit, said they are disappointed that the high court decided to remand the case to the planning board rather than decide the legal issues. The neighbors named in the suit are: Peter Murray, Deborah Murray, Carol Connor, Michael Hoover and Jean McManamy. Peter Murray is a founding partner at Boepple’s law firm.

“If you walk around that area and envision what (Wells’) project would look like, it’s a very large structure that would be imposed on a neighborhood it doesn’t belong in,” Boepple said. “(The lawsuit) certainly isn’t just a nuisance.”


Wells worries that the ruling could have repercussions throughout the state. “It’s going to force planning boards and municipal staff to do a lot more work in these findings of fact,” he said.

Boepple said the issues raised by the neighbors could have implications for other projects in the city, and that they are concerned about the project’s impact on the neighborhood.

The project at 19 Willis St. was among the first multiunit housing projects to be approved in the Munjoy Hill Conservation Overlay District after it was formed in 2018 in response to concerns about development and the changing character of the neighborhood.

The district was ultimately repealed by the City Council in June 2022 following the creation of a separate Munjoy Hill Historic District, which is about half the size of the overlay and is subject to the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance in addition to the restrictions of the overlay, which made it more difficult to demolish some architecturally significant buildings and added requirements to better ensure that new buildings are built in a similar style, size and scale to those that already exist.

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