The City is finally going to do something to fix Commercial Street.
On Monday, the Portland City Council voted unanimously on a six-month moratorium on development of the Portland waterfront in an effort to address the historic conflict of interest between the fishermen, pier owners, business owners and property developers competing for cramped space.
“We are booming but we need to make sure we are booming with balance,” said councilor Belinda Ray. “If not, we lose what brought so many people to Portland.”
Sponsored by Portland City Manager Jon Jennings, the emergency amendment halts all non-marine development on the ocean side of Commercial Street for 180 days, but also creates a special, publicly accessible task force which will draft a list of recommended changes during that time.
“We all know Commercial Street is broken,” said Jennings. “After listening to the fishermen, and all the individuals who work on the waterfront, they are not just concerned about today, they are concerned about their future generations. It’s time to get this right.”
Jennings said that the task force would be made up of equal representation from all interested parties and would seek to remedy numerous issues, including dwindling berthing space for fishermen, costly pier and wharf repairs, clogged traffic, and the encroachment of luxury development projects. Many of these problems are connected — for example, the increase of traffic on the waterfront increases the cost of repairing piers, which in turn compels owners to increase docking fees, impacting the fishermen forced to pay them.
“The waterfront is in very bad shape,” said Roger Hail, the owner of General Marine Construction. “We face unbelievable problems that you just don’t see anywhere else.”
To address these intersecting issues, the new task force plans to consider several strategies, like zoning changes, parking restrictions, increased enforcement of existing ordinances, and systems of tax increment financing and credit rebates that would lower the expensive costs of maintenance for pier and wharf owners.
This moratorium arrives in response to a citizen’s referendum launched October 30 by members of the Working Waterfront Group, which seeks to halt all non-marine development on the waterfront. Members of the group are still collecting the 1,500 signatures needed to get on the ballot, but they also showed support for the moratorium and task force — as long as working class fishermen actually get a seat at the negotiating table.
Some members of the Working Waterfront Group couched their support with demands that the council not allow any new restaurants, hotels and other non-marine development projects to spring up on the waterfront.
“The non-marine uses on the working waterfront now outnumber marine uses. That must end,” said Orlando Delogu, a Portland resident who provides legal counsel to the Working Waterfront Group. “I reluctantly support the moratorium because the Working Waterfront does and in the hope that in six months time we will create a compromise.”