Modified plans for a controversial proposed development on Portland's East End may not go far enough to protect the unobstructed views of the City's historic Fort Sumner Park. That's according to the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization who released news of the updates late Thursday.
Developer Bernard Saulnier hopes to build a five to six story condominium complex at 155 Sheridan Street on Munjoy Hill, a plan that immediately riled many throughout the city due to the impact it would have on the park's popular view. The site was once home to a revolutionary fort, charged with the monitoring of the Back Cove and Fore River, and instrumental in the protection of Portland from British troops. For decades, the park has been a popular viewing point for Mainers and tourists alike, providing sweeping views westward across the City, to Back Cove and Mount Washington.
Both the view and the park's historical significance have caused moves for a moratorium on park-adjacent property within the R6 Zone and an effort to save the park from infringement by new development.
The most recent renderings of the proposed plan, while not tied to an official application reflect a dramatic change to those first presented to and reported by the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization and Munjoy Hill Observer in early August.
While Saulnier Development's changes appear substantial, a portion of the park's northwestern corner would remain partially obstructed. Much of the space is currently overgrown by brush but visitors can still often view Mt. Washington from the tip of the park's observation deck. Mr. Saulnier has indicated he is still committed to meeting with members of the MHNO Board, Mayor Ethan Strimling and City Councilor Belinda Ray, but the current plan may be his final offer, according to Saulnier attorney, Patrick Venne.
"We believe (the updated plans)will allay the vast majority of concerns over vista impacts. Note, the only impact remaining is from the vantage point of someone standing on the edge of the park, looking to the far right, and amounts to no more than the area a tree top could easily cover." Venne said in a letter addressed to the MHNO Thursday afternoon. "In other words, we've essentially responded to the concerns we've heard, completely through a design solution and the developer's flexibility out of respect for the community."
Whether the plan will be widely supported by the community remains to be seen. While no official position has been reported, many among MHNO's membership, its Board of Directors, Mayor Ethan Strimling, City Councilor Belinda Ray and others throughout Portland have been vocal in their opposition to any structure interfering with the site's current view. Ray recently announced her intent to seek a 60-day moratorium on all developments adjacent to public parks within the City's R6 Zone. That moratorium, if passed, would remain in place during a review of City ordinances and their impact to public views.
According to Mr. Venne, Saulnier Development has offered to sell the air rights to the site to the City of Portland. But he says, there has been no indication of interest from the City. The rough figure discussed for that sell was $1.5 million. We've reached-out to Portland City Manager Jon Jennings regarding that offer and will provide updates once available.