A new working waterfront panel in Portland holds its first meeting Thursday. The group of lobstermen, wharf owners and others will start with a look at a new inventory of marine and nonmarine uses on the downtown’s docks.
City officials were supposed compile the inventory annually after some zoning restrictions were lifted in 2010, a change that affected areas near but not immediately on the water. But the new report is the first since 2012. In the intervening years, waterfront coordinator Bill Needelman says the first-floor vacancy rate on the piers has dropped from 10 percent to 5 percent.
“There has been a marginal increase in the amount of nonmarine activity, largely as a result of filling that vacant space with new uses,” he says.
Needelman says the recent addition of a big restaurant on one pier, Scales, is the largest single contributor to the trend.
Supporters of easing zoning restrictions say that’s the kind of high-revenue tenant needed to help defray the costs of wharf upkeep. But lobstermen and others say they are being crowded out of their parking and berths - putting a vital part of the city’s economy and character at risk.
The city council last week enacted a 6-month moratorium on nonmarine development in the area in an effort to ward off a more permanent ban that a proposed public referendum would enact.