PORTLAND, Maine — Proposals to preserve the character of the city’s oldest street and surrounding neighborhood will be headed to city councilors next month.
India Street, which runs from Congress to Commercial streets, is the focal point of recommendations in the India Street Neighborhood Sustainable Neighborhood Plan.
Working on the premise of developing a mixed-used, high-population density neighborhood that could also tie into the eventual redesign of Franklin Street, the report by the India Street Neighborhood Advisory Committee calls for clustering retail areas along main streets, promoting sustainable growth, and leveraging the historic value of the neighborhood for future development.
Much of the neighborhood’s original historic value went up in smoke and flames in the Great Fire of 1866. But in a July 28 public meeting, city Historic Preservation Manager Deb Andrews noted the neighborhood still has at least eight historically significant buildings.
Among them are the former North School, the India Street Firehouse, and Abyssinian Meeting House. Andrews also cited 70 secondary buildings as “contributing” to the neighborhood’s image and identity.
If the neighborhood could be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, developers could take advantage of state and federal tax credits when making renovations that preserve the integrity of historic structures.
The face of the neighborhood has changed in the last decade as new hotels and market-rate condominiums were constructed along Fore and Federal streets.
But the report specifically recommends against development of more hotels. It also recommends city-owned property at Franklin and Middle streets be used to build affordable housing.
While managing neighborhood growth, the advisory committee also called for expanding recreational opportunities and access to public transportation. Reconnecting portions of Federal and Newbury streets that were closed when Franklin Street was widened are also seen as ways to link the neighborhood with the rest of the city.
The report’s route to implementation may be as circuitous as its title, with review by the City Council, Planning Board and Historic Preservation Committee.
The implications and recommended regulations will extend through a neighborhood bordered by Franklin, Congress, Mountfort and Fore streets.
The advisory committee, with five working groups, compiled the report and met Aug. 7 to hammer out final details and decisions. The heavy lifting of drafting new zoning and building code regulations will be left to the City Council and Planning Board, city Planning Division Director Alex Jaegerman said in an Aug. 14 email.
Included in the plan are recommendations for “form-based” building codes to allow new construction in the neighborhood to match surrounding buildings, and “inclusionary zoning.”
The zoning could be used to boost affordable housing stock in the area by requiring affordable units to be offered in new developments with 20 or more units. In developments with 10 or more units, the provision could be avoided by paying fees to the city Housing Trust Fund.
In the last two years, the neighborhood has been extensively scrutinized in several studies.
The advisory committee includes University of Southern Maine professor Richard Barringer and City Councilor Kevin Donoghue as co-chairmen. The past, present and future of the neighborhood has also been examined by academic groups from as far away as Portland [Oregon] State University and the University of California at Davis.
The advisory group has also relied on input from city staff including Jaegerman, Andrews, Housing and Community Development Division Director Mary Davis, and Public Services Stormwater Coordinator Doug Roncarati.