Members of the Portland, Maine, planning board aren’t ready to rule on a 68-foot-tall cold-storage facility proposal for the city’s western waterfront.
Approving the proposed structure would require a zoning change to increase the building height limit from 45 to 75 feet. Officials said at a Tuesday meeting that they don’t have enough information about the project to vote on the change.
In 2015, Atlanta-based Americold Logistics successfully bid to build a modern refrigerated warehouse in Portland. Supporters say the absence of such a facility puts Portland at a disadvantage when competing with larger East Coast ports in food exports, most notably seafood.
Since the lobster price crash in 2012, Maine has been redefining itself as a place to process and export — not just land — lobster. For decades, Maine has trucked live lobsters to Atlantic Canada for processing. The glut of lobster that year increased tensions between Maine and Canadian lobstermen, resulting in blockades of lobster trucks on the northern border, which were perceived as a threat to the Canadian fleet’s price.
Cold storage is a crucial component to the burgeoning processing industry in Maine.
Americold is partnering on the cold-storage project with Icelandic shipper Eimskip, which maintains its North American headquarters in a lot adjacent to the proposed Americold site in the shadow of the Casco Bay Bridge.
Americold sought the zoning change because the current 45-foot restriction would “significantly restrict [the proposed 6.3 acre site] to house a sufficiently scaled, efficient, modern facility.”
Opposition to the plan came primarily from local residents, who fear that increasing the height restriction would compromise views and open the door to further development that would dominate the vista. In letters protesting the height increase, many pointed out that Americold agreed to the 45-foot restriction as part of the bid process. A number of residents said they supported the project overall but didn’t understand the need for the height change.
“I support Eimskip and cold storage, but I don’t think that Americold has made a compelling case for why it has to be this height,” said Portland restaurateur Tod Dana. “If there is some really compelling evidence there, I’d love to know about it.”
In the end, the public and the board members agreed and plan to hold another workshop to discuss the issue before making any zoning recommendation.
“I don’t think we have enough economic research and understanding,” said board member David Eaton. “I think there is a whole lot of information we don’t have.”