Portland’s “Working Waterfront” in Jeopardy

Portland, Maine; photo courtesy Creative Commons

The Portland Press Herald reports on the irony of Portland, Maine, hosting the National Working Waterfront Symposium, as the city’s zoning laws to protect its wharves and piers from non-marine use is being questioned.

Representatives from 21 states will be in Portland, Maine, next week (Sept. 27-Oct. 1) for a national symposium on protecting working waterfronts. The organizers chose Portland 3 years ago because the city and the state are national models on the issue. Among urban planners, Portland is famous for the 1987 citizen initiative that prevented new non-marine development on the city’s piers and wharves.

But a lot has changed in the last year and half. Portland is now revamping those zoning restrictions.

Pier owners say the restrictions make it impossible to generate the income they need to pay for the expensive pier maintenance and dredging projects. Some of their marine tenants are fighting the changes because they fear they will be forced out.

The contentious issue will go to the City Council this fall for a vote.

The current political issues make Portland an even more interesting case study, said Hugh Cowperthwaite, who is on the conference’s planning committee and works as the fisheries project director for Coastal Enterprises.

“One of the ironies of locating the conference here is that the Portland zoning is under question,” he said.

City Councilor John Anton said the conference is also an opportunity for the city’s staff to get input from planners and scholars who are dealing with similar issues around the country.

“Portland has been held up historically as an example of how to save a working waterfront,” he said. “That seems to be on the ropes right now.”

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