Opinion: 58 Fore Master Plan to go Before Planning Board this Tuesday, Dec. 20

On Tuesday, December 20th, the Portland Planning Board will decide whether to approve the master plan for the 58 Fore St. property (formerly Portland Company complex) on the Eastern Waterfront of Munjoy Hill, as submitted by the development firm overseeing the project, CPB2, LLC.

In recent days, a group of city residents, organized under the name of Portlanders for responsible Development, presented to the City's Planning Board what they say is evidence that the master plan, as submitted contains fundamental incongruities with the longstanding Eastern Waterfront Master Plan, a document which must be adhered to when planning a large, multistage project on the Eastern Waterfront.

CPB2 principal Jim Brady disagrees, citing acknowledgements from city officials, including the City's Economic Development Director, that the CPB2 master plan conforms to zoning and other requirements and is completely in line with the City's longterm development strategy. Below are the respective arguments from both Mr. Brady and Portlanders for Responsible Development, as they were submitted directly to the Munjoy Hill Observer.


Ambitious Master Plan for 58 Fore Street Hopes to Achieve Many of the Goals of the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan

Submitted by Jim Brady on behalf of CPB2, LLC

Redevelopment of the 10-acre site will create a substantial supply of much needed housing and will be a central economic driver for the City of Portland, providing construction jobs, long-term employment opportunities, and meaningful increases in real estate tax revenues. Further, the redevelopment is appropriately focused on the rehabilitation of the most historically significant buildings of the former Portland Company. The buildings will not only be rehabilitated, but also reinvigorated with retail, restaurant, open space and office space. This “Historic Core” will welcome the community by featuring a dramatic 50 ft. public access easement that highlights historic facades and alley-ways of the nationally significant former Portland Company, designed to connect the public and the neighborhood directly to the waterfront.

As envisioned by the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan (EWMP), the redevelopment will enhance the waterfront experience for the Portland community by creating a new waterfront neighborhood with the trail relocated closer to the water’s edge, and a focus on water dependent uses as well as the continued operation of the MNGRR on the State owned Rail-Trail corridor. 

The importance of this redevelopment is quite evident: the City has held over 50 workshops, meetings and public hearings over the past four years.  Our local development team has created and submitted thousands of pages of site and landscape plans, sections, concepts, renderings, historic preservation reports and development proposals.  We feel very fortunate for the opportunity over the past four years to invest our time and energy into creating a development that Portland will be proud of for generations to come.

Facts are important.  They are especially critical for a hard-working community that doesn’t have the time to review thousands of pages of submittals.  We value our relationship with our neighbors, and will continue our dedication to presenting the facts. We encourage our neighbors to reach out to us when presented with rhetoric that appears to be contrary to facts, as verified by the City Planning Staff. We have and will continue to take the time to answer questions and listen to concerns. 

The Master Development Plan, as submitted, is fully compliant with, observes, and respects Portland’s zoning, building height overlay, and Comprehensive Plan.  To directly quote Christine Grimando of Portland’s City Staff’s memo to the Planning Board, “The Master Development Plan is consistent with zoning, including individual zone purposes, uses and dimensional standards and the B-6 Height Overlay."

Some believe that a building on the site creates a loophole with its north-south orientation, and feel that the building is larger than any other in the city.  In fact, the building being referenced is a pedestal parking garage, largely hidden from public view, a direct response to the Design Guidelines set forth in the EWMP.  This parking structure will contain the majority of the parking for the redevelopment, accommodating all residential, retail, and marine uses as well as the uses in the Historic Core and hotel.  In brief, it is critical that this new neighborhood be a walkable, pedestrian friendly place where parking is mostly obscured from direct view. We all agree that parking shouldn’t be located on the waterfront or in the Historic Core, so this pedestal of parking on the eastern portion of the site is the thoughtful design solution that ensures the Design Guidelines are met. 

Above the parking base level, this building will house separate uses (primarily residential) broken up into substantially smaller footprints that observe and enhance the required view corridors. To be clear, this building being referenced strictly adheres to the standard average grade building height calculation used throughout the City.  This same height calculation standard is utilized by existing homes on Fore Street today.  

This pedestal parking garage is approximately 400 ft. wide from the Fore Street frontage to the waterfront frontage. Again, it will be largely hidden from pedestrian view.  (For context, the properties directly west of 58 Fore are commercial buildings that are each over 500 ft. long.) The 58 Fore Street building, however, will accommodate parking for the majority of the future development of the 10-acre site, keeping it out of sight of the community, a direct response to the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan and its Design Guidelines.

The Master Development Plan proposal has reduced the number of buildings facing Fore Street, in response to comments received by neighbors.  Direct abutters have requested that residential units be removed from Fore Street and either be consolidated into the center of the redevelopment, or to the east. We’ve listened to those comments and incorporated them into our Master Plan. (Notably, zoning allows for buildings to exist on ~80% of the Fore Street frontage, as the Design Guidelines require the redevelopment connect with the Munjoy Hill neighborhood. The current Master Development Plan before the Planning Board proposes approximately ~60% of the frontage have new development.) 

That said, we’d like to conclude this piece with where it began - highlighting the tremendous opportunity this redevelopment presents to the City of Portland.  We encourage the community to review the EWMP and its Design Guidelines and note the many positive community goals this project will not only address, but successfully deliver.  The EWMP stated the following, “Development within the eastern waterfront will create a vital and active mixed use urban area that generates life and use every day of the year.” We look forward to making this development a reality, implementing the community’s collaborative vision by working together to create a welcoming new waterfront neighborhood - a place that all can celebrate for decades to come.

PLANNING BOARD SHOULD REQUIRE CPB2 TO LIVE UP TO THE SHARED VISION Of the EASTERN WATERFRONT MASTER PLAN

Submitted by Peter Murray, Martica Douglas and Barbara Vestal on behalf of Portlanders for Responsible Development

Portlanders for Responsible Development (PRD) and its members favor responsible and appropriate redevelopment of the former Portland Company property. But that redevelopment must be consistent with Portland's Comprehensive and Master Plans, among other standards. PRD has asked the Planning Board to withhold its approval of CPB2’s proposed Master Development Plan (MDP) for 58 Fore Street unless and until its deficiencies are adequately addressed.

The matter in front of the Planning Board on Tuesday, December 20th at 7:00 in Council Chambers is CPB2’s application for approval of its Master Development Plan (MDP). If approved, CPB2 will be protected against
changes in zoning or related land use regulations for up to 10 years. Unlike a regular site plan approval (which expires in 3 years), CPB2 could obtain conceptual approval of its general buildout of the 10-acre property for six (6) years, with two options to renew for another two years each. So even if Portland decided to, for example, change some aspect of the zoning, CPB2 would be immune from that change for up to 10 years. In order to give this advantageous MDP approval, the Planning Board must find that the proposed MDP meets 14 specific standards in addition to complying with the zoning. One of these specific standards requires CPB2 to prove to the Planning Board that its MDP is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and Council-approved Master Plans. PRD does not believe that the current plan of CPB2 meets this standard.

The most relevant of the plans with which it must comply is the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan and its incorporated Eastern Waterfront Height Study. In 2002-2004, much community effort went into creating the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan (EWMP). With the prospect of constructing Ocean Gateway on the east end and consolidating all cargo operations on the western end of the harbor, everybody recognized that redevelopment of this underutilized eastern part of the waterfront could bring certain benefits. But the City also realized that if it was not careful to require public access to the water (visual and physical), did not limit the allowed uses to an appropriate range, and did not impose thoughtful limits on heights and massing, new development on the eastern waterfront could negatively impact the existing adjacent neighborhoods. The Eastern Waterfront Master Plan, adopted by the City Council in 2004, was seen as the document that balanced these interests in a careful way. The City should hold CPB2 to that overall vision. New development should not be allowed to undermine or destroy the remarkable fabric of our historic city and the amenities of the people who live here.

PRD and its members are deeply concerned that the Master Development Plan proposed by CPB2 for the former Portland Company property on Portland’s Eastern Waterfront is not consistent with Portland's Comprehensive Plan. Specifically, the heights and massing of the buildings proposed on the Eastern portion of the project site violate the City Council approved Eastern Waterfront Master Plan and Height Study. CPB2 proposes to construct 8-10 story buildings within 75 feet of the water, right along the trail. This violates the EWMP. The Height Study, which was adopted into the EWMP in 2004, says that 4 story buildings (some with slim 1-2 story towers) are the maximum heights which are appropriate for the 58 Fore Street site.

How are the zoning and the EWMP so different in this regard? CPB2 claims to be complying with the zoning, and depending upon how one interprets the zoning ordinance, it might be. BUT to qualify for a MDP, it needs to comply with the Comprehensive Plan, including the EWMP too, not just zoning. One could easily design a project so that it was compatible with both. That would require proposing 4 to 6 story buildings. CPB2 has instead opted to take an aggressive interpretation of the zoning ordinance, and to essentially disregard the Height Study of the EWMP, to maximize the number of square feet that it can build on to the site in 8 – 10 story buildings.

To delve into the details of the discrepancies between the master plan and the zoning, please see the submission of PRD on this project which is posted on the City’s website with the materials for the December 20th public hearing and can also be viewed here.

In summary, the proposal of CPB2 disregards the Height Study’s “building envelopes” which divide the 58 Fore Street site into 9 pieces in order to limit the size of building footprints. Instead CPB2 proposes to merge 4 building envelopes into one which would cover approximately 5 acres, the eastern half of the site. A single 5-acre building is proposed to occupy the entire eastern end of the site, spanning from Fore Street down the steep slope to within 75 feet of the water. CPB2 is arguing that it should be allowed to calculate the maximum heights of buildings based on the “average grade,” and averages the height of the 4 corners of this mega-building to be 50’ in elevation. So CPB2 asserts the zoning height limits (of 45’ for example) should not even start to count until the buildings underneath it reaches 50’ in elevation. This results in buildings which are 8-10 stories.

In contrast, it is the well-researched and very firm belief of PRD that the EWMP that was enacted by the City Council in 2004, does the following, all of which are not adhered to by the proposed CPB2 MDP:

  • establishes the maximum heights of buildings on the eastern portion of the site to be a basic 4 stories (with small 1-2 story towers no more than 70 feet wide and 140 feet deep perpendicular to the water). (In contrast, CPB2 proposes 8-10 story buildings);
  • establishes that the site is divided into the 9 building envelopes shown on the Height Study, thus disallowing a “height grab” to carry over the Fore Street heights to increase the scale of buildings along the water (regardless of whether heights are to be calculated based upon average grade or flood plain) (In contrast, CPB2 combines the building envelopes on the eastern half of the site into one to grab that height);
  • establishes a “no build” area called the “Portland Company Alignment” to preserve views along the waterfront into the heart of the Portland Company Historic District (In contrast, CPB2 fills the eastern and western part of the alignment with new buildings, precluding any view); and
  • establishes that heights of buildings east of Mountfort Street (including the entire 58 Fore Street site) are to be measured from flood plain (not from average grade) to minimize the adverse impacts upon the Munjoy Hill neighborhood and to keep buildings on the eastern portion of the site below the grade of Fore Street to preserve the public’s panoramic view of Portland Harbor. (In contrast, CPB2 rejects the argument that the City Council adopted measurement from flood plain east of Mountfort Street. For details of PRD’s proof of flood plain, click here.)

It is possible to construct six story buildings below Fore Street, right up to the edge of Fore Street. The MDP proposes exactly that for six stories of parking. But it then adds 3-4 stories of residences on top of the 6 stories of parking, in violation of the EWMP.

PRD is merely asking for the City to enforce its own plans. CPB2 has held the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan up as being its vision as well. Ironically, it appeared to be on course to comply with the EWMP in its submissions for a zone change in 2014 and 2015. But in 2016, with the unveiling of the proposed MDP, our shared vision seems to have parted ways. It is up to the Planning Board to get us back to that shared vision, informed by the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan. Please consider joining the PRD in asking the Planning Board to withhold its approval of the proposed Master Development Plan (MDP) unless and until it complies with the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan, including the Height Study, the community vision that was painstakingly created by hundreds of people in more than two years of effort.