Author Archives: kittre4688

Parents and Dog-owners to Portsmouth: Stop Dumping Carcinogens in Public Spaces, Ask Friends & Neighbors to Sign Change.Org petition at

Cancer-conscious parents and dog-lovers want the city to stop dumping carcinogens on its quaint brick sidewalks, public parks, historic cemeteries and green spaces just for the convenience of killing a few weeds and annoying critters. (The American Cancer Society says the worldwide cancer epidemic is growing. The state says Portsmouth is part of a pediatric cancer cluster. Unfortunately, the Big C is no stranger to many locals or their pooches. So to many, the risk vs. benefit equation makes no sense).

A Change.Org petition to Portsmouth’s Mayor and City Council asks elected officials to require the city to stop dumping carcinogens in public places. Their argument is that there is no good economic excuse for jeopardizing anyone’s health by deliberately using dangerous chemicals on public sidewalks and green spaces when when safe alternatives exist. Anyone wanting to help can ask friends and neighbors to sign the online Change.Org petition:


Many countries and US cities have banned potentially carcinogenic herbicides and pesticides– often called “cosmetic carcinogens” because their use for nonessential purposes is considered frivolous.  But in Portsmouth, children and dogs have been spotted reveling in the lush grass of Haven Park, where crystals from a recent city Rodeo application are still visible despite recent heavy rains. (Rodeo is a Roundup-related herbicide containing glyphosate, which many countries have banned due to its cancer-causing effects. The WHO deems it a potential carcinogen).

Here’s a recent opinion piece in the Portsmouth Herald:

And a piece on a French national pesticide ban in the works:


With the notion of “workforce” housing apparently greasing the skids, the new Portsmouth City Council is poised to vote on rezoning much of the city to allow bigger buildings, a move likely to benefit folks with properties in rezoned areas. Wasting no time, the five-month-old City Council already agreed to buy contaminated land valued in 2014 at $2.8 million (see appraisal) for $4.9 million from developer Kim Rogers for the new parking garage. It voted to give big water users a break on water costs via a lower-priced tier of “irrigation” fees.  And “workforce” housing is being argued to plop another view-blocker in front of the Governor John Langdon House on the Parrott Ave lot.

We hear a lot about the need for financial transparency in national government. But in a catastrophic failure of community journalism (because we think keeping voters in the dark is so dangerous to local democracy), our local newspaper, the Portsmouth Herald, never reported that we know of on who financed former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand’s “One Portsmouth” campaign that got seven out of eight of its chosen candidates elected last fall.  (Some now call it “Marchand’s Council”). We know that Kim Rogers helped out  because upset voters called us after attending an event he hosted expecting to see all 16 candidates, but found only half of them present (see invitation below), and some candidates said they were not invited.  “Who else contributed?” asked one observer. (The Herald’s owners own the paper’s former competition, so it has a monopoly on the local news diet, and Marchand used to sit on the Herald’s Community Advisory Board). “Who wrote the editorial cheering the workforce housing idea?. We don’t know.”

Kim Rogers candidate invite 001

For more info and for a link to the whole City Council so you can air your views, go to:


To reach your City Councilors individually to let them know what you think, email:

Mayor Jack Blalock:

Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine:

Councilor Josh Cyr:

Councilor Brad Lown:

Councilor Nancy Pearson:

Councilor Rebecca Perkins:

Councilor Josh Denton:

Councilor Chris Dwyer:

Councilor Eric Spear:


Dear Mayor and City Councilors;


I am writing to express the hope that you will ignore our “local” newspaper’s editorial myopia, show independence from the city administration that seems to respond to its own not-so-publicly-visible agenda, reconsider plans to expand the sewage treatment facility on Peirce Island, have the foresight to save Peirce Island for our children and grandchildren– and expand the sewage plant at Pease where it belongs instead.

The drive to save Peirce Island from becoming the city' toilet is sprouting posters and buttons

The drive to save Peirce Island from becoming the city’ toilet is sprouting posters and buttons

Citizens across the city believe that vastly expanding the city’s sewage treatment plant on a tiny island that is inevitably doomed to be too small for our growing city’s needs—in a part of the island where rising sea levels will make access difficult– is neither progressive nor practical. It’s anti-growth. It’s not smart. Greatly expanding the city’s sewage treatment plant (its toilet) in the front yard water view of a city whose economy is built on tourism and historic preservation is also a strategic and economic blunder. It’s just not smart.


Sadly, it does not help that all this is happening in a near news-vacuum or that citizens have been poorly-informed about the choices by our sole surviving but underperforming news “watchdog,” the Portsmouth Herald. In the last few weeks, hundreds of concerned citizens have met repeatedly at the public library about this issue, but coverage has been highly selective and misleading. The only news that emerged about a recent big meeting there was a biased news story claiming that a regional solution is impossible. In fact, our sewage treatment plant is already regional, serving several communities. And the latest Herald editorial trumpets an unenlightened “solution” that will inevitably harm the city as it runs out of room.

Any claims that the EPA and CLF want the plant at Peirce Island are incorrect—some of us have spoken to them. The argument that after many meetings, the plant should go on Peirce Island because we’re out of time and therefore we have to make a move even if it’s the wrong move are wrong too. Nothing justifies making the wrong move. Any claims that expanding the plant on Peirce Island will foster job growth at Pease fly in the face of common sense. Any claims that Peirce Island will be cheaper reflect only creative math. In the long run, it’s cheaper to put it at Pease, where it belongs. Peirce Island is the wrong move for an enlightened 21st Century City Council.

Whatever you decide, make no mistake: we voters will hold you accountable for your vote (Mon March 7, 7 pm) on this four to five-year project as it drags on and on in coming years.

Opponents say the city wants to put a giant toilet in its front yard and chop down all the trees

Opponents say the city wants to put a giant toilet in its front yard and chop down and artificially “landscape” the trees

The threat to Peirce Island is causing one frustrated citizen to question the direction of current city management and its stewardship of the city. “What’s wrong with City Manager John Bohenko? This is one of the highest-paid municipal officials in the state and this is his legacy? An overbuilt downtown, blocked water views, cheap-looking oversized new construction that erodes the city’s character, a move to unravel land use regulations that took years to build up to protect the city, a rash of demolitions, permissive land use boards and the city toilet in the wrong place?,” asked one vexed citizen. “Is this enlightened leadership? Why are people so afraid to take him on?”

Want to help? Show up, speak, and/or click on the Save Peirce Island button.

Get involved via:

Or email your elected officials individually at:

Mayor Jack Blalock:

Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine:

Councilor Josh Cyr:

Councilor Brad Lown:

Councilor Nancy Pearson:

Councilor Rebecca Perkins:

Councilor Josh Denton:

Councilor Chris Dwyer:

Councilor Eric Spear:



Not content to usher in the rapid erosion of Portsmouth’s charm through poorly regulated, oversized development of dubious quality, the city is pushing hard for what  critics say is a shortsighted, ecologically-incorrect plan to decapitate and virtually wreck one of its finest natural assets– Peirce Island.

The final plan– which had its first reading in mid-February and some say was snuck in just before school vacation week–  is to spend years erecting a massively expanded multi-foot high sewage treatment plant on tiny Peirce Island in the Piscataqua River. Portsmouth’s new City Council is due to vote March 7 on the plan, which is likened to building a giant toilet in the city’s front yard.

Proponents of the plan– led by Portsmouth City Manager John Bohenko, a Pease Development Authority board-member– claim the sewage plan can’t go to Pease because the city is out of time and the fight over the city’s sewage has dragged on for too many years, the EPA and Conservation Law Foundation  are forcing this on the city to meet federal water standards,  several businesses don’t want it at Pease, Peirce Island has to be dug up anyway to improve the outfall pipe which will stay on Peirce Island, routing pipes to Pease will mess up the downtown, building it on Peirce Island is far cheaper than doing it at Pease, too much money has been spent on designing the expanded Peirce Island plant already, those who want to save Peirce Island are naïve dreamers and it’s too late to change plans. Although the new City Council will have the final say, some members of the new City Council– seven of whom were promoted for election by former mayor turned political strategist and lobbyist Steve Marchand–  claim the last council made the decision and it’s out of their hands. The Portsmouth Herald, which does not have a recent history of fighting editorially for the city’s character– has its offices at Pease. And the city administration really wants the plan and makes gauzy presentations about it:

Meanwhile, proponents of expanding the plant at Pease instead say this plan will destroy Peirce Island and involves more poor stewardship of the city’s most precious assets, years of big trucks and heavy machinery will totally disrupt downtown Portsmouth and fragile Strawbery Banke streets and buildings, affecting tourist businesses, hotels and restaurants, it will harm the river environment, jeopardize the city’s waterfront and destroy yet another water view, lower property values, Peirce Island is so small the city’s sewage will inevitably have to go to Pease some day anyway, this plan is a false economy because all the costs haven’t been counted and the numbers– which can be crunched many ways– don’t add up, contrary to “grossly exaggerated” fear-mongering, the pipes could be run upriver or threaded through the city via new technology, and most egregiously, this plan does not account for sea level rise. At a recent meeting about the plan, dozens of opponents showed up en masse and threatened to swamp the city with tax abatement requests if the plan goes through.

To save Peirce Island, critics of the city’s efforts suggest contacting City Councilors, writing LTEs, showing up for the March 7 City Council meeting and crucial public hearing, and connecting with this website:

Ever Heard of Global Warming?

“Someone should wake up the City Council and tell them global warming is real,” an observer said. “I hope they have amphibious vehicles budgeted in their capital plan– because in 20 years they’re going to need them. The new City Council after barely two months on the job is about to decide on the most expensive project in the city’s history? Do we think our population is not growing? Why put this on a tiny island? Do you want your grandchildren to say ‘Hey Grandpa, didn’t you hear about global warming?’ Why is this being shoved through? Who benefits from this? Hold on here!”

Opponents say the city wants to put a giant toilet in its front yard and chop down all the trees

Opponents say the city wants to put a giant toilet in its front yard and chop down all the trees

Peirce Island


On the eve of a crucial Portsmouth election, activist/ice cream mogul Ben Cohen interrupted his crusade against money in national politics today to weigh in on the corrosive influence of  big bucks in local politics. Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, is “Head Stamper” of the Stamp Stampede, a national push to get money out of national politics by overturning the US Supreme Court decision saying corporations are people.

rally market square w stamp out money sign

During a downtown Portsmouth stop at Book & Bar today, Portsmouth Now! cornered Cohen about its pet peeve. This blogger told Cohen that Portsmouth once had two competing daily newspapers (and competing City Hall reporters), but with only one daily paper left, the Portsmouth Herald covers some issues like a blanket (like the police financial scandal), but won’t cover others (like this summer’s City Planning Department email to a developer’s lawyer of an HDC approval decision before the HDC heard from the public or voted on it). Also in this climate, this blogger told Cohen that eight of 16 City Council candidates are being promoted by a slick, expensive-looking PR campaign, but Portsmouth voters have no idea what interests are behind it because the paper hasn’t reported on it. (Luckily, an investigative news website, is attacking the gap left by faltering dailies). Asked for a comment about the combination of a weak local daily paper and money’s influence on local politics, Cohen got a faraway look. Pensively eyeing the crowd milling between bookshelves, stamps and ice cream samples, he told Portsmouth Now!: “Our democracy is being destroyed by two things– money in politics and the fact that the media is no longer performing its watchdog role and exposing corruption– so the influence of money in politics is going on mostly in the dark.”leftist marching band majorette at rally

The Stamp Stampede and Leftist Marching Band also showed up for yesterday’s rousing rally on Financial Transparency & Open Local Government” in Market Square, along with a crowd of revved-up residents. Five City Council candidates attended on behalf of financial transparency– Esther Kennedy, Jim Splaine, Jack Thorsen, Rick Becksted and Duncan MacCallum, as well as two Police Commission candidates– the “two Joes,” Joe Onosko and Joe Plaia.

Transparency Candidates; City Council: Esther Kennedy, Jim Splaine, Jack Thorsen, Rick Becksted, Duncan MacCallum; Police Commission: Joe Plaia, Joe Onosko

Transparency Candidates; City Council: Esther Kennedy, Jim Splaine, Jack Thorsen, Rick Becksted, Duncan MacCallum; Police Commission: Joe Plaia, Joe Onosko (Josh Denton and Brad Lown signed transparency promises, but Lown made the same promise two years ago then broke it.)

Today, Cohen encouraged people to use a red stamp he sells at a discount with messages like “NOT 2 B USED 2 BRIBE POLITICIANS.” One person stamping five bills a day for a year will reach over a million people in 2 1/2 years, he said. With 17 states on-board to amend the Constitution to get money out, Cohen said New Hampshire (with the First-in-Nation primary) is “Ground Zero.” And people united are more powerful than entrenched big money interests, he said.

Ben Cohen leads Stamp Money Out of Politics pledge at Book & Bar in Portsmouth

Ultimately, the cure for money in politics is to give everyone in the country a $100 voucher to contribute to whatever candidate they want, Cohen said. Then he led the audience in a mock Pledge that ended: “One nation, incorruptible, with Liberty and Justice, for all.”

Here’s InDepthNH’s coverage of yesterday’s rally:

and the Herald’s:





Reacting to the financial scandal in the Police Department, a diverse, nonpartisan (real) grassroots group of concerned Portsmouth citizens came together Sunday to push for financial transparency  and disclosure across all city government and local campaign finance reform. Many participants described the rousing Market Square rally as a spontaneous, organic response to the crisis in the city.

rally market square w stamp out money sign

leftist marching band majorette at rally

All 16 Portsmouth City Council candidates were invited to the rally to promise to uphold the City Charter and push for local campaign finance reform. Of these, five City Council candidates (Esther Kennedy, Jim Splaine, Jack Thorsen, Rick Becksted and Duncan MacCallum and two Police Commission candidates (Joe Onosko and Joe Plaia), showed up.transparency dog at rally

Candidates who could not attend were asked to sign a promise to finally carry out the City Charter’s Conflict of Interest requirements for all city officials, fight for local campaign reform and keep big money out of local elections. Join the rally for open local government, city campaign finance reform & full financial disclosure. Only Josh Denton and Brad Lown signed.


Many residents want the financial window opened on all of Portsmouth City Government

Let's open the window and shine financial daylight on city government and on our local city elections

… and shine financial daylight on our local city elections

Amendment C of the City Charter (Portsmouth’s Constitution), requires “mandatory financial disclosure by all police, school, municipal officials, whether appointed or elected…” Shockingly, the City Council voted 5-4 last year against meaningful expansion of the city’s current limited disclosure to all city  officials, as the Charter requires. 

Organized by a growing nonpartisan collection of concerned citizens for open local government, including Julie Brillhart, Mark Brighton, Arthur Clough, Larry Cataldo, 133 Islington St, Portsmouth, NH 03801  & many, many others. Let make our voices heard.






In the wake of Citizens United and efforts to stamp out big money in national politics, many folks in Portsmouth worry that big money is trying to influence our local city election.

Former Mayor Steve Marchand, now a paid political operative, is orchestrating a fancy PR campaign pushing a slate of eight City Council candidates. But three of his endorsed “Great 8”– incumbent City Councilors Chris Dwyer, Brad Lown and Eric Spear– were in the 5-4 anti-transparency majority that cast two crucial (Dec. 8, 2014) second reading votes against extending conflict of interest/financial disclosure requirements to the City Manager and land use boards (as the City Charter specifically requires). Asked at a recent forum whether he’d make the city comply with its own financial conflict of interest requirements, Marchand endorsee Gibson Kennedy said a flat “No!” Jack Blalock and Joshua Cyr waffled; Rebecca Perkins said she wouldn’t include the land use boards. Only Nancy Pearson of all Marchand’s endorsees said “Yes.” (Josh Denton, not on his list, was noncommittal).

“With all the turmoil involving financial conflict-of-interest and the police, Portsmouth city government needs more financial transparency– not less,” an observer said. “Who’s paying for this campaign? Is big money trying to transform our city politics? Citizens need to stand up to demand transparency in compliance with our City Charter and local city campaign finance reform so we know who’s financing our local city elections. That’s what this election is all about– financial transparency across city government.”


Marchand—a paid political and PR strategist who offers his contacts and expertise to commercial real estate and other clients– sits on the Portsmouth Herald’s Community Advisory Board and the Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee. Because the Herald is endorsing candidates, many feel that’s a conflict of interest for the newspaper at the very least. Meanwhile, One Portsmouth, Marchand’s website, describes what it’s doing as a “grassroots” campaign. But these days, so-called “astroturf” PR campaigns also mimic grassroots efforts on behalf of paying interests. “Who is financing this ‘grassroots’ campaign while unpaid grassroots efforts that we know are real like the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers and Portsmouth Now! and a bunch of earnest, hardworking citizen volunteers come under attack?” objected the local observer. “Campaign signs and mailers are expensive. Who is paying all the bills?”

The Portsmouth Herald, now owned by a giant corporate hedge fund that owns hundreds of American newspapers, has a near-monopoly on Portsmouth’s daily news menu. But it has been just about silent on these questions. “The newspaper should look itself in the mirror and demand financial transparency across our city government– not just the police,” the onlooker said. “It should also report the facts. Will the Herald give city voters information about the financing behind a City Council campaign orchestrated by a Herald board-member it obviously has access to? Or will the city’s lone daily newspaper let city voters go to the polls lulled by sunny PR but uninformed about what’s really going on?”

A judge's ruling abot conflict of interest in the police department has triggered calls for financial transparency across Portsmouth city government

A judge’s ruling abot conflict of interest in the police department has renewed calls for all of Portsmouth city government to comply with the City Charter’s conflict of interest and financial disclosure requirements



Email Exchanges Between City and Developer Raise Explosive Ethics Questions


Just when ethics and conflict of interest problems have embroiled the Police Department and triggered a public uproar, a  legal request for a city board to reconsider the Historic District Commission’s Harborcorp approval and  Conditional Use Permit raises questions about transparency and the democratic process in Portsmouth city government and its land use boards.

The administrative appeal filed with the city last Thursday (asking for the Board of Adjustment to reconsider the HDC’s various OKs of the project) alleges that the Portsmouth Planning Department wrote the draft decision approving HarborCorp and the permit to let it rise above the 45-foot height limit before the HDC held its public hearing and final vote this June 10. The motion– accompanied by a hefty 750-page booklet of supporting documents– also alleges that city Principal Planner Nick Cracknell leaked word of the HDC’s pending appproval to HarborCorp’s lawyer hours before the public hearing and vote (see PDF of memo cover sheet below). (Tellingly, the motion reads, HDC chair Joseph Almeida asked for the Planning Department to draft the approval (ie. saying “Yes”) before the public hearing, but did not ask for a draft decision saying “No” in case the board voted against it).

“In short, the June 10, 2015 public hearing was a sham,” lawyer Jerry Zelin wrote on behalf of 196 appellants. “The outcome was determined and communicated to HarborCorp before the hearing.” The Planning Board hearing was similarly “tainted” by behind-the-scenes decision-making, the motion alleges.

Two volunteer Portsmouth lawyers, Jerry Zelin and City Council candidate Duncan MacCallum, worked countless unpaid hours compiling the motion on behalf of 196 individuals more or less affiliated with a wide range of groups from the APT to Portsmouth Listens and no group in particular. The lawyers got their most explosive information via Freedom of Information Act requests of the type investigative reporters usually use. (Why does it take unpaid volunteers to dig this stuff up when there’s a daily newspaper in the city? This email story was spoon-fed to the Portsmouth Herald last week. Why did the Herald sit on the story for days instead of reporting it? Speculation is rampant, ranging from blaming the overworked reporter on this beat to his editor, his boss’s boss, or their publisher for alleged bias, or the giant hedge fund that now owns the Herald and hundreds of other American newspapers. Is it about the coming election? Readers are in the dark). But contrary to  astroturf PR and City Hall real estate lobbyists’ claims, the appellants say they are not against development or grocery stores. It’s just that they feel the city’s largest megabuilding– spanning three lots and several football fields– would be way more people-friendly and better for the city in the long run if it were split up and built on a more human scale.

“At a time when police conflict of interest and transparency problems have sent shock waves rippling through the city, these latest allegations raise serious questions about what’s going on at Portsmouth City Hall,” this blogger noted. “This is why we need strict, meaningful conflict of interest and financial disclosure requirements at all levels of city government from all our city officials elected and appointed. It’s why we need to elect a Mayor and City Councilors who are straight-shooters with the backbone to clean up our city government and fight for taxpayers’ interests. What’s going on here? Is this the tip of the iceberg?”

Here’s a PDF of the controversial p. 520 memo cover sheet in the 750-page document book supporting the appeal, communicating the HDC decision to Harborcorp before its vote:

cover sheet copy


Without asking the City Council, a member of the city’s legal team earlier this year testified on the city’s behalf in favor of a bill that would have made it more expensive for citizens to get information about their city government under the Right-to-Know law, according to departing City Councilor Zelita Morgan. The bill was tabled, but Morgan warns that it could come up again and make it harder for residents to get access to public information. Morgan, who plans to bring it up at tonight’s City Council meeting, says voting also costs municipalities money, but cities don’t charge citizens to vote. She urges anyone interested in open access to public information to speak out during public comment at the meeting’s start or email the Council at


Puzzled readers have asked us about an article published in the Portsmouth Herald last Sunday, Oct. 11. The story, which had a prominent front-page teaser, was riddled with errrors and damaging innuendo about Portsmouth Now!, wrongly repeating as fact– multiple times– developers’ claims that Portsmouth Now! has filed lawsuits and appeals against developers and the city. For the record, Portsmouth Now! has never filed any lawsuits or legal actions against anybody. On Wed., Oct 14—three days after the story ran– the Herald finally posted a corrected version of the story online. On Thursday, Oct. 15– four days after the story ran– the Herald finally ran a correction on p. 2 of its print edition. But the people who asked us about the story said they missed the correction, and we were not able to find it posted online.

For what it’s worth, an axiom of good journalism is that errors must be acknowledged and prominently posted as fast as possible. Here is what a leading journalism school reports about the Washington Post’s online media corrections policy









During their soon-to-expire terms, three City Councilors running for reelection broke crucial campaign promises to increase transparency at City Hall  by imposing conflict of interest and financial disclosure requirements on the key boards approving multi-million dollar developments.

“Amid widespread alarm about conflict of interest and the police, the city’s lax conflict and financial transparency rules for other major players has been all but forgotten,” said one observer. “But the City is still way out of compliance with the Amendment C of the City Charter (its Constitution) which requires mandatory financial disclosure by ALL municipal officials appointed or elected. How come?”

With the city awash in development dollars, many residents urged the City Council to increase transparency by beefing up financial disclosure for all elected and appointed city officials as required by the City Charter.

With the city awash in development dollars, a 5-4 City Council majority defeated efforts to extend financial disclosure to key players, as required by the City Charter.

In a 2013 Portsmouth Now preelection survey, candidates Chris Dwyer, Brad Lown and Bob Lister (who won our endorsement and became Mayor), answered “Yes” when asked if they would extend financial disclosure requirements to the land use boards. Former Mayor Eric Spear and City Councilor Stefany Shaheen did not participate in the survey, but their votes have shown where they stand.


In two crucial Dec. 8 (2014) second reading votes on moves to tighten the city’s lax conflict of interest/financial disclosure requirements to comply with the City Charter, City Councilors Eric Spear, Brad Lown, Chris Dwyer, Stefany Shaheen and Mayor Bob Lister formed a 5-4 majority voting AGAINST including the land use boards and the City Manager, (voting instead to add the School Board and Police and Fire Commissions). Voting in the pro-transparency minority were Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine and City Councilors Esther Kennedy, Jack Thorsen and Zelita Morgan.

“The last Charter change in 1987 approved by two-thirds of city voters requires financial disclosure of ALL police, school, municipal officials, appointed or elected, of current personal sources of income and all capital assets– None of this watered down stuff,” the observer noted. “Other cities do it—why aren’t we?”

Now, incumbents Dwyer, Spear and Lown want your vote again.  Asked how voters knew he’d keep his campaign promises in 2013, Lister, who isn’t running again, declared: “I have 38 years of integrity and leadership as an educator and in civic activities. Any friends and colleagues will state that I am a person of my word, I am consistent, do not shy away from making decisions and I do not waffle on issues. Integrity and building trust is very important to me.”

The moral of the story? Voter beware.

Candidates accepting Portsmouth Now's endorsement in 2013 included Bob Lister, who went on to break his campaign promise to extend financial disclosure requirements to the land use boards

Accepting Portsmouth Now’s endorsement in 2013 were Bob Lister, who became Mayor and broke a key campaign promise to extend conflict of interest/financial disclosure requirements to the land use boards



Folks pushing for more human-scale growth in Portsmouth want the Mayor and City Council to vote against the North End’s character-based zoning ordinance Monday (Aug 17) because it’s too big and too tall.The last Master Plan urged pedestrian-friendly, human-scale growth in the North End. But many say the once hopping neighborhood leveled by urban “renewal” is being overstuffed with overlarge buildings. “Like Urban Renewal, the City is again separating the North End from downtown instead of integrating it. Why allow monstrous over-development there? Why no tougher parking requirements? Why no water/sewer impact fees as other cities do to help pay for the new sewage treatment plant? We’ve added huge 24/7 water users like Portwalk and given them a free ride at taxpayers’ expense,” a critic noted.

Up for final OK Monday night, the North End zoning ordinance calls for four floors or 50 feet in most of the North End, five stories or up to 60 feet in the interior, with an extra floor most places if developers offer things like worker housing. Heights are stepped down to a more human-scale two to two-and-a-half stories within 100 feet of high tide, and building footprints are limited to 15,000 square feet (Portwalk III is 50,000 sq ft). On August 3, City Councilor Stefany Shaheen cast the lone vote against second reading of the North End zoning ordinance—not out of apparent concern for the city’s character– but so more weight could be given to the interests of “landowners,” echoing former Mayor/developer Peter Weeks’ bid for a delay.


Two years ago, citizens met amid outrage about development trends in Portsmouth. Noting that over 90% of all downtown Portsmouth buildings were 35 feet or lower, Portsmouth Now and hundreds of citizens pushed for the City Council to pass a 35-foot height limit to protect its character. Instead, in Sept. 2013, the City Council passed a 45-foot height limit with a Conditional Use Permit letting developers go above 45 feet if the pro-hyperdevelopment Historic District Commission said yes. During the 2013 City Council campaign, six of the nine City Councilors who won election—including Portsmouth Mayor Bob Lister, Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine, and City Councilor Brad Lown—pledged to back the new height limit without a CUP—which would have kept the whole downtown – including Harborcorp–no higher than 45 feet. However, on April 7, 2014, Lister, Splaine and Lown broke their promise during the decisive second reading and voted to exempt Harborcorp from the new height limit.


“The North End has become nothing more than a real-life game of monopoly played by just a few developers—but the big losers are the citizens of Portsmouth,” the critic said. “We fought for a 45-foot height limit less than two years ago. Let’s see if City Councilors will now keep their promises and not let anything go higher than 45 feet in downtown Portsmouth.”


PW wall edited

The size and scale of new North End development has caused widespread consternation