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.
WILL OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS KEEP THEIR HEIGHT LIMIT PROMISES?
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: BENEFITING A FEW AT TAXPAYERS’ EXPENSE
“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.”
TO ASK YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO SAY NO TO AN OVERSIZED NORTH END, IGNORE GROUNDLESS CLAIMS THAT ONLY SKYSCRAPERS MAKE PROFITS, AND VOTE FOR A LOWER, MORE SUSTAINABLE NORTH END, EMAIL: <firstname.lastname@example.org>,<email@example.com>,<firstname.lastname@example.org>,<email@example.com>,<firstname.lastname@example.org>,<email@example.com>,<firstname.lastname@example.org>,<email@example.com>,<firstname.lastname@example.org>
The size and scale of new North End development has caused widespread consternation