The Portland City Council will vote on whether to repeal the Munjoy Hill Conservation Overlay District at its June 22 meeting.
Councilors discussed the plan in a workshop Monday night, centered around a unanimous recommendation from the Planning Board that the overlay district is no longer needed because the newer Munjoy Hill Historic District accomplishes many of the same things.
Christine Grimando, director of planning and urban development, said the board also deemed some elements of the overlay district “didn’t necessarily need to be in place for just this neighborhood.”
Councilor Tae Chong said he supported repealing the overlay district because it led to “an abysmal number” of housing units being built.
“People were concerned about demolitions taking place left and right,” Chong said. “The overlay district has not done what it promised to do, which is create housing, create ADUs, and create new kinds of housing.”
Grimando said from 2018 through early 2022, 56 accessory dwelling units were approved, though very few have actually been built.
Mayor Kate Snyder asked if there were any benefits to the overlay district and whether it was actually encouraging density. Grimando and Kevin Kraft, deputy director of Planning and Urban Development, said there are elements where the underlying R6 zone and the overlay district get at the same density, but in other areas, the overlay district is more restrictive.
“When the overlay district was created it wasn’t to suppress density, it was just getting at it from a different angle,” Kraft said.
Snyder then asked if there was any benefit in waiting to repeal the overlay district until after the city completed Recode Phase 2, a process that will overhaul the city’s land-use codes.
Grimando said there was reasoning to follow the order proposed by the Planning Board, since repealing the overlay district allows the board to “jump into questions” regarding the underlying R6 zone.
When asked about how the overlay district impacts affordability, Grimando said that is a “complicated question.” The city doesn’t track or govern the affordability of existing housing, she said, and it may be that existing units retain market-rate affordability.
However, she said rent and housing costs are continuing to increase for existing development.
“Whether this is repealed or not won’t lead to turnover one way or another,” Grimando said. “This is about easing restrictions.”
The overlay district was established in 2017, after a moratorium on new activity on Munjoy Hill. Grimando said the district was meant to pause demolitions and address concerns about the quality and character of infill development.
The Planning Board requested its review in 2020, and in February it recommended the council dissolve the district.
The Munjoy Hill Historic District was established in April 2021. Although it doesn’t capture every piece of the neighborhood, Grimando said about 85 percent of Munjoy Hill is under some form of historic review at this point.
One item the overlay district put into place was a height cap on homes. Typically, homes in the zone – R6 residential – have a maximum height of 45 feet. On Munjoy Hill, the overlay district reduced that to 35 feet for single-family homes and duplexes, but with an allowance for a building to go to 45 feet if it created additional workforce housing.
The rationale, Grimando said, was the city was seeing single-family homes and duplexes getting “quite large” on Munjoy Hill. She said the split was a way to “incentivize” the creation of multifamily units.
While the overlay district paused demolitions, the historic district prohibits various homes from being demolished.
City Council panel to select manager search firm
Despite not being able to begin the search for the next city manager until after November, city officials appear poised to select the firm that will lead that search.
The city manager search subcommittee is slated to decide between the two remaining candidates – Baker Tilly US of Chicago and GovHR of Northbrook, Illinois – at its June 16 meeting. The item would then go to the City Council for its approval on June 22.
While Mayor Kate Snyder said she slightly favors GovHR, two other members of the subcommittee – Councilors Mark Dion and April Fournier – said they favor Baker Tilly. The fourth member, Councilor Pious Ali, was not present for their June 9 meeting.
Both firms have previously advised the subcommittee to not advertise the job until after November when the public will vote on the Charter Commission’s recommendations. One of the commission’s likely proposals would change the role of the city manager, which could reduce the number of interested applicants.
Snyder said she’s spoken with interim City Manager Danielle West about her potential interest in the permanent job. Snyder said West is waiting to see how the Charter Commission process plays out.
The subcommittee is expected to score how the two firms propose to manage the time between now and November. Baker Tilly, for example, proposes hosting stakeholder meetings and creating a brochure during the period.
The price each firm would charge for these revamped services is not being weighed, and both figures have been sealed until after a firm is chosen on merits alone.
The city has until mid-August to make a selection, although Snyder said she would like to get this done “sooner rather than later.”
— Colin Ellis