A work session on HarborCorp will cap the Historic District Commission’s agenda when it holds its third meeting this month Wed. night (Sept. 17, 7 pm). A Portsmouth Herald editorial Monday praised the developer for reducing the size of the enormous project by 50,000 square feet, creating a central plaza and more.
Some folks worried about the city’s direction wonder whether part of the reduction in size the Herald Editorial Board views so favorably includes parking. The project would occupy three city lots, and some fear that it will further wall off Maplewood Ave, and reduce Maplewood’s now shaky pedestrian appeal by orienting its best features towards the Sheraton. The city has already allowed Portwalk to wall off part of Maplewood by orienting its most pedestrian-friendly features towards Portwalk Place.
HDC CHAIR ALMEIDA SUCCESSFULLY PUSHES FOR HUGE CERES STREET ADDITION AND INFILL
Meanwhile, some witnesses are still reeling at the way HDC Chairman Joseph Almeida ran last week’s HDC meeting. The chairman of the board charged with protecting the city’s fragile historic character forcefully lobbied for the HDC to OK the one-year extension for the Conditional Use Permit and final approval for 173-5 Market Street. Opponents through uncompensated volunteer lawyer Duncan MacCallum had argued that the mass and scale of the Ceres Street addition and infill are only five feet smaller than the last incarnation and so similar that it violates legal precedent set in a previous landmark (Fisher v. Dover) case.
Almeida and most of the HDC dismissed the claim. Instead, he and vice chair Tracy Kozak insisted that the new plan was very different from the old plan. In tricky procedural moves, Almeida pushed the discussion toward a vote. For example, he let Jon Wyckoff make a motion before the whole board could fully discuss the issue, then told new alternate Vincent Lombardi (who seemed to have something more to say) that he couldn’t speak because alternates can’t speak after a motion has been filed. Almeida also seemed to try to push another board-member, William Gladhill, into voting for the project when he seemed undecided. And he openly advocated for the project without passing the gavel.
The HDC granted both approvals despite impassioned pleas from residents and abutters to reduce the mass and scale of the huge Ceres Street addition and infill next to it.
Despite the developer’s complaint that the project has dragged on too long, abutter Matt Morton pointed out that the plan would have passed months ago if he hadn’t pushed for the huge “bumpout” bulging into Ceres Street. “It changes the whole flavor of this street,” he objected… “It’s outrageous!”
Barbara Ward, curator and director of the Moffatt-Ladd House, said the Society of Colonial Dames of America which owns the historic house across Market Street, still feel “the mass and scale of the additions is too great.”
Commenting as a resident, Ward later quoted the ZBA reversing the original HDC approval saying “the elephant in the room is the mass and scale” of the new addition. This “obliterates the original building” and takes away its original character, she said. As for the developer feeling put-upon by the lengthy process, Ward said “this is not personal. It’s about the way the city should be developed. The waterfront is of enormous benefit to us—do we really want to take away from the character of the city—the quality of the city—to sell a few condominiums?”
During the only comment he was allowed to make about the project, alternate Vincent Lombardi, Mayor Lister’s latest appointee to the HDC, said the size of the bumpout was “shocking” to him. He said the old building “looks like it’s being eaten” by the new house—it’s engulfing it. I find it very uncomfortable. I don’t think it fits.”
In the end, only two HDC-members voted against the final approval. City Councilor Esther Kennedy and Planning Board member William Gladhill praised the Market Street side of the project but voted against it based on the scale and mass of the Ceres Street addition and infill. Daniel Rawling, whom Mayor Lister recently named a permanent HDC member, voted to approve it and the CUP extension, as did Jon Wyckoff and even alternate Reagan Ruedig, a board member of the Portsmouth Historical Society voting in the absence of HDC-member George Melchior.