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Plan to Redevelop Portland Waterfront Site Has Some Residents Worried

Tom Porter
Anne Rand, of the group Soul of Portland, worries about how the planned development will affect her neighborhood, and its view of the waterfront.

See Editor's Note Below

PORTLAND, Maine - A plan to redevelop a stretch of Portland's waterfront will be front and center at City Hall tonight. A real estate development group wants to re-zone a 10-acre site at the foot of Munjoy Hill - something that it says would bring vibrancy and wealth to the neighborhood, creating hundreds of jobs. Opponents however fear development plans could permanently ruin the panoramic view of what it calls a "seaside treasure."

The property in question is 58 Fore Street - where Portland's lively Old Port area gives way to the quieter, more residential neighborhood of Munjoy Hill.

Credit Tom Porter / MPBN
The site at 58 Fore Street, which is proposed for redevelopment.

The view of Casco Bay from "The Hill" is unique, says local resident Anne Rand. "We're at the foot of St. Lawrence Street, where it comes into Fore Street. When you look out you can see the islands, you can the harbor, ferries, cruise ships - it's a beautiful, beautiful view," Rand says.

Rand - a former Democratic state senator - is with a group called Soul of Portland, which is calling on the City Council to reject plans by a property development company called CPB-2 to rezone the 10-acre site for mixed use. It's currently a waterfront special use zone, she explains.

If redevelopment goes ahead, Rand and others fear three-story high buildings could be built along Fore Street, obliterating much of the view. Rand says the group's not against development, but has major concerns about what CPB2 has in mind, since no specific plans have yet been submitted.

To grant the rezoning now, she says, would be to give the developers a "blank check."

"There are things out there - they might do this, they might do that. I've heard a massive private marina, I've heard a lot of different things," Rand says. "But the truth of the matter is they have submitted nothing. We have no idea."

Credit Tom Porter / MPBN
Jim Brady in his Portland office.

"That is correct, we are just in the zoning phase," says Jim Brady, with CPB 2, which bought the Fore Street property two years ago. He says it's difficult to design a definitive development plan until the zoning is in place. "We could be a bit like the dog chasing its tail."

But Brady says he is encouraged by the fact that the Portland Planning Board has already approved the zoning change. Now it's up to the City Council. Eventually, Brady foresees 58 Fore Street becoming a vibrant. mixed use. publicly-accessible site, likely to feature retail stores, restaurants and more residential space.

"We're just very excited about this," Brady says. "The 58 Fore St. property on the eastern waterfront represents one of the most unique sites here in Portland and arguably north of Boston. This is a big deal for the city of Portland, and something that we see as allowing the vision of the eastern waterfront to finally be fulfilled."

Brady cites an economic analysis recently carried out by research group Planning Decisions. Economist Charles Lawton authored the study. He compared the Fore Street property to a typical similar-sized development in the Old Port, zoned for mixed use. The total economic impact, he concludes, is more than $250 million, while he predicts the value of the property itself to increase 10-fold.

"In this particular study we said that if the square footage in the 10-acre site at 58 Fore St. was developed in a similar pattern to the 10 acres in the sample Old Port area, it would create an increase in property values, from $8.5 million to about $89 million," Lawton says, which would mean an additional $1.5 million in annual property tax revenue to the city.

But for Anne Rand, from the 'Soul of Portland' action group, the waterfront vista that this development threatens is something you can't put a price on. "We love our waterfront and we want to maintain the view. That view is available to all of us, you don't have to be a millionaire or a billionaire to enjoy, and that's what we like."

Tonight's public hearing gets underway at 7 pm, after which the City Council is expected to vote on the re-zoning proposal.

Editor's note: As this story was airing, word came that Portland city officials have decided to postpone the discussion about this project because the city's comprehensive plan certification expired at the end of February, according to The Associated Press. Officials are working to resolve the problem. The council will instead take up the project at its June 1 meeting.