A map showing the boundary of the proposed historic district within the broader Munjoy Hill Neigborhood Conservation Overlay District in orange. (Source: City of Portland)
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Opposing sides in the debate over a Munjoy Hill Historic District remain at odds after the Portland City Council delayed a vote on the proposal until after newly elected councilors are seated.

The proposed district would include nearly 430 properties plus six buildings outside of the contiguous boundaries of the district that the city hopes to designate as landmarks.

The city’s Historic Preservation Board began discussing the proposal in 2017 and unanimously approved the project; the Planning Board took it up last year and voted 4-3 in August to recommend the project to the council.

Michael Petit, former head of the state Department of Human Services and a resident of Munjoy Hill, last week said he believes the council’s delay is an inappropriate political decision that favors developers.

“This is all about money and development and economizing the Hill,” Petit said.

Petit and Pamela Day, who reside on Waterville Street, singled out Councilor Nick Mavodones for criticism. Petit and Day said a request from Mavodones for more information was unnecessary because all the information needed is already available.

Mavodones on Nov. 16 proposed a delay until the first meeting in February to give new councilors enough time to get up to speed. Although some councilors balked, the delay was unanimously approved.

Three new councilors – Mark Dion, April Fournier, and Andrew Zarro – will take office Dec. 7, replacing Councilors Kim Cook, Justin Costa and Jill Duson. Cook and Duson chose not to seek reelection, and Fournier defeated Costa for an at-large seat.

Mavodones said the delay is just about the process and giving the council more time to gather information. Although the issue has been before the Planning Board several times, the council has only had one workshop, with about 30 minutes for councilors to ask questions. 

Petit said the delay is an attempt to kill the historic district with the help of three new councilors. He said he believes the current council would have approved the district at its last meeting had the item not been postponed, and said postponing was a stalling tactic.

“There are developers all over the Hill that are making a fortune,” Petit said. “That’s what they do for a living. What we do for a living is we live here, and we like it a lot.”

Petit and Day said they and others in the East End neighborhood are overwhelmingly in favor of the historic district, and are concerned that developers have the ear of councilors.

Day said the city has a solid track record with other historic districts, and Munjoy Hill is just as deserving of the designation. She said the historic district will not prevent future development from occurring but will keep it in harmony with the historic nature of the neighborhood.

Wayne Valzania, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, said his group is continuing to offer councilors as much information as they need for a decision, including walking tours of the area.

Another MHNO board member, Barbara Vestal, said the organization accepted the councilors’ decision to postpone and wants them to have enough time to make a reasoned decision.

“They have a lot on their plates,” Vestal said. “If this is the decision they felt they had to make, we can’t argue with that.”

Vestal also said close to 90 percent of Munjoy Hill residents support creation of the historic district.

One of those who disagree with her is Hill homeowner Carle Henry. He said it was completely reasonable for city councilors to request more time.

“This is a very important decision as it relates to so many topics, from housing to equity,” Henry said. Contrary to popular belief, he added, a historic district won’t slow demolitions or prevent them from happening.

Henry also said the council’s decision to delay for more information shows it is serious about this issue.

“It’s not just a single neighborhood issue,” he said. “This is a city issue at this point.”