PORTLAND, Maine — A waterfront stroll last week provided city Planning Board members and the public a chance to envision the future of the Portland Company complex at 58 Fore St.
“We did the site walk to get a sense of scale of the site and what proposed heights would look like,” property owner Jim Brady said Friday.
The site walk took place on Nov. 18.
Brady and his CPB2 LLC partners Casey Prentice and Kevin Costello bought the historic 10-acre property from Phineas Sprague Jr. in July 2013.
They are now seeking two zoning changes Brady said are not only needed for future development of the 170-year-old site, but to conform with the intentions of the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan, which was incorporated into the city’s Comprehensive Plan in 2006.
“We want a first-class development Portlanders can be proud of,” Brady said.
The shift from a Waterfront Special Use zone to an adjacent mixed-use B6 zone and the Eastern Waterfront Port Zone affects land from Fore Street to the Fore River, including a 50-foot-wide state-owned strip of land used by the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad and 13 acres of submerged land used by Portland Yacht Services.
With a B6 designation comes height allowances of up to 65 feet, which Brady said is critical to successful development. But neighbors and members of Greater Portland Landmarks fear such development will mar views of the harbor from areas on Munjoy Hill.
In an amended Planning Board submission from Woodard and Curran, senior project manager David Senus noted the master plan also considers the taller building part of the potential development on the site.
Brady said a provision to place new buildings would be at least 35 feet back from Fore Street. Any construction will be placed inside “view corridors” to protect views along the streets intersecting Fore Street, he said.
View corridors did not impress St. Lawrence Street resident Peter Macomber, who sent a Nov. 7 email to the Planning Board expressing his worries about building heights.
“[View corridors are] a ridiculous sop to the public and are tantamount to telling people to look through the wrong end of a telescope with blinders on; those corridors only compartmentalize and minimize the view and conceal more than they reveal,” Macomber said. “The only real ‘view corridor’ is the one that fully encompasses the entire viewshed, not tiny slivers of it.”
The Portland Company complex dates to 1846, when it was constructed to build railroad equipment for the Grand Trunk Railroad. According to a memo from city senior planner Christine Grimando, it was used industrially until 1978.
There are no site plans for the Planning Board to consider yet, and Brady said the redevelopment will be phased over 10 to 15 years.
The city Historic Preservation Board has commissioned Sutherland Conservation to make a historical and architectural study of the site, which was presented to the HPC in September. City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Nov. 20 an assessment of the structural condition of the buildings is expected by Jan. 1, 2015.
City tax records show none of three buildings listed on the site were built before 1900, but the site is eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, Maine Historic Preservation Commission architectural historian Christi Mitchell said in a March 31 letter to Andrews.
Any discussion of designating the area a city historic zone where development would face approval by the Planning and Historic Preservation boards will be deferred until the zoning decision is made by City Councilors, Grondin said.
“We do not think it is appropriate,” Brady said of designating the site a historic district. “We appreciate the historic structures on the site and our intent is to preserve, but it is not appropriate to preserve all of them. We will work with a core.”
Fore Street resident Denise Preisser was unable to attend the site walk and ensuing workshop, but her Nov. 11 email to the Planning Board expressed worries about preservation and potential building heights.
“Each day I am in awe of the panoramic active harbor view that is seen now freely from the overlook … on Fore Street between Waterville and St. Lawrence,” she said. “I strongly support saving all the historical buildings and promoting this site as a historical district with the guidance and expertise of Portland Landmarks and the Historical Society.”
The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad, which has its museum in the complex and operates excursion trains around Eastern Promenade, will likely not be part of the long-term future of the area.
The museum has obtained rights of way needed to run trains near Route 100 in Gray, and could relocate to a new museum and railroad tracks in 2017.
The zoning request will require at least one more workshop before a public hearing and possible recommendation, Planning Board Chairman Stuart O’Brien said Nov. 19.