Portland residents worry rezone of city block will signal the end of water views

Popular Portland Mexican restaurant El Rayo Taqueria sits at 101 York St., where property owner J.B. Brown & Sons hopes to gain city approval for a rezone.
Popular Portland Mexican restaurant El Rayo Taqueria sits at 101 York St., where property owner J.B. Brown & Sons hopes to gain city approval for a rezone. Buy Photo
Posted Sept. 24, 2013, at 8:59 p.m.
This concept sketch by WBRC Architects and Engineers depicts what kind of development could be possible if local developer J.B. Brown & Sons gets a portion of the land bordered by York, High and Danforth streets rezoned. The approximately 64,000-square-foot site is currently a mixture of neighborhood business, residential and business zones.
This concept sketch by WBRC Architects and Engineers depicts what kind of development could be possible if local developer J.B. Brown & Sons gets a portion of the land bordered by York, High and Danforth streets rezoned. The approximately 64,000-square-foot site is currently a mixture of neighborhood business, residential and business zones. Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine — Residents in the area of a proposed Portland rezone told city planners Tuesday night they’re worried new development at the site could block their views of the water and affect their property values.

“I know water views are a big deal for a lot of people,” said Park Street resident Erin Foley, one of four area residents to express concerns about losing tenants or pending home sales due to the threat of the nearby development. “I’ve been told that my water view isn’t my property, but my home value is based on my water view.”

Developer J.B. Brown & Sons is seeking to change nearly 30,000 square feet of its polygonal property bordered by York, High, Danforth and Maple streets to the less restrictive B-3 downtown business zone to match the zoning of the remaining 34,000 square feet of the block.

Currently, the 7,560 square feet closest to the busy intersection of York and High streets — a site currently home to the Mexican restaurant El Rayo Taqueria — is a B-1 neighborhood business zone. Between that section of the property and Danforth Street, a 22,307-square-foot area, is an R-6 residential zone.

The rezone would allow a more diverse mix of tenants in the structures there, among other allowances, but in that location would not increase the allowable building height in the area beyond its current 45-foot cap. The proposal was the topic of a Planning Board workshop Tuesday night.

The board does not vote on proposals in workshop settings.

Vincent Veroneau, CEO of J.B. Brown, said he understands the “risk of losing views,” but described it as part of living in an urban setting.

“No disrespect to anyone, but the zone allows for 45 feet today. We’re not asking to go up to 65 feet,” he said. “Clearly we want to work with our neighbors to the extent we can, but if we said we were going to go one story on this site then [we would] see diminished value on the property ourselves.”

Planning Board members told those in the audience there’s little they can do to force developers not to block views.

“The issue of the views comes up over and over and over again whenever somebody builds downstream from someone else,” board member Timothy Dean said. “Unfortunately, if you want to preserve your views, you have to buy all the way down to the water.”

Added fellow board member Elizabeth Boepple: “There’s not much we can do about concerns over views. The current zone allows for a 45-foot structure that blocks your views. The rezone wouldn’t change that.”

Veroneau has said his group doesn’t have concrete plans for how it would redevelop the property, and is waiting to gauge whether the city will support rezoning there before it invests in market research and designs. But he told the Planning Board Tuesday night he would seek to develop plans and begin construction, if the rezone is approved, in either September 2014 or September 2015.

The street addresses listed for the rezone request are 101 York St. and 68 Danforth St.

Concept plans submitted to the city planning office show a hypothetical development with two levels of internal parking, commercial spaces at the street level and apartment or condominium units on the upper floors.

If the Planning Board votes to recommend the property rezone, it will be forwarded to the City Council for final approval.

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