A trio of pier owners contend that new restrictions on waterfront development would cripple the potential revenue they need to maintain Portland’s working waterfront.

But city officials question the accuracy of that claim and support a battery of zoning changes intended to preserve fishing and marine businesses in the downtown.

The debate over the future of Portland’s waterfront will come to a head Tuesday when the Planning Board is scheduled to vote on whether to recommend that the City Council adopt new zoning rules. Those changes were pursued by local fishermen worried that commercial development and tourist traffic are driving them off the city’s wharves and piers.

Zoning changes to the central waterfront closest to Portland’s Old Port would restrict non-marine commercial development, eliminate contract and conditional zoning, and prohibit businesses such as restaurants and retail.

It would also shrink an area closest to Commercial Street where varied business uses are permitted, called the non-marine use overlay zone, from 15.4 acres to 9.8 acres.

David Bateman of Fisherman’s Wharf, Steve DiMillo of Long Wharf and Charlie Poole of Union Wharf offered an analysis that squeezing the overlay zone into a thinner “Commercial Street overlay zone” would mean the loss of potential yearly real estate tax revenue of almost $1.2 million, a 56 percent cut.

It would reduce by $3.4 million the possible revenue earmarked for marine infrastructure investment, a 64 percent loss compared to what could be built out under current rules, the three owners said. Their letter was in response to Planning Board questions about the financial impact of changing the zones.

“It appears that the proposed amendments are being rushed to a decision before a thoughtful analysis and sorting fact from fiction on the issues have been full vetted,” the three property owners wrote. “In other words, these proposed amendments seem more like change simply for the sake of change and not reinforcement or support for the working waterfront’s continued economic well-being.”

In an interview Friday, DiMillo said he and his fellow pier owners support changes to preserve waterfront access, parking and marine uses, but are firmly opposed to shrinking the area on their properties that can be freely developed.

“This is the only contention we have,” DiMillo said. Fishermen “have not made a compelling case. There is no reason to reduce the size of the overlay zone; they are not being pushed off the Portland waterfront.”

Jeff Levine, Portland’s director of Planning and Urban Development, said he welcomed the pier owners’ financial projections, but felt they made some questionable assumptions and disregarded other factors.

“I think their analysis was really helpful, but it was hard to use it to guide any public policy decisions because there were a lot of things left out of it,” he said in an interview.

The analysis was based on a full build-out of the overlay zone, which may not be feasible, Levine said in a letter to the Planning Board. It also only examined the positive fiscal impacts and did not take into account the impact of waterfront development outside the narrow overlay zone.

“In reality, the fiscal impact of these changes is virtually impossible to quantify accurately,” Levine said.

As presented, the zoning changes will meet the city’s policy goals, which are to keep the working waterfront one of the city’s most important cultural and economic assets, he said.

“It preserves the long-term economic value of the working waterfront for Portland, because it is part of our brand,” he said.

 


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