Islington Creek residents oppose North End zoning changes

PORTSMOUTH � Residents of the Islington Creek neighborhood remain unsatisfied with revised zoning amendment plans presented for the Foundry Place and Hanover Street area.

The proposal from the city’s Planning Department, which includes building height adjustments, rezoning of character districts, and modification of boundaries of overlay districts, went before the Planning Board Thursday night for a second public hearing, following significant abutter concerns when the changes were first introduced in August.

The plans call for the modification of location and boundaries of the North End Incentive Overlay District and the Downtown Overlay District for certain properties along Hanover Street and Foundry Place, changing building height area requirements, and rezoning from Character District 5 to Character District 4 and Character District 4-L1.

The zoning changes would add a new maximum building height along Foundry Place of two to three stories, or 40 feet, with the allowance of an increase to four stories if the development meets requirements of the North End Incentive Overlay District. It would also reduce the building height along Hill Street for future proposals.

In addition, the changes would remove the portion of 361 Hanover St., currently home to Heinemann Publishing, fronting on Hanover to align with the North End Incentive Overlay District boundary, so residential would be allowed on the first floor.

Planning Director Juliet Walker said the proposal started with a request from the potential developer of the�Heinemann property. Based on public input during a meeting in August and concerns from Planning Board members on height requirements, it was referred back to the Planning Department at that time.

Principal Planner Nick Cracknell said the city developed a North End Vision Plan in 2014, which was the basis of character-based zoning in the area.

“The building height map is based on neighborhood context, and done street by street in the downtown,” he said. “It’s based on what’s on the ground. It’s still imperfect, but it’s a more refined approach to building height.”

Walker said the Planning Department met with the Islington Creek Neighborhood Association, as residents expressed concerns “in part a response to the intensity of development happening in this area, and concern about preserving neighborhood character for housing stock and the type of neighborhood is Islington Creek right now.”

What was presented Thursday, Walker said, was a “mixing of the two different objectives, looking back on the North End Vision Plan but also recognizing again that the people living in the area have some different perspectives on what they’d like to see happen in the neighborhood.” Walker called it a “balancing of city-wide interests with property rights.”

But residents remained frustration with the version presented, and Foundry Place LLC also spoke against the proposed changes.

“We remain concerned about keeping the incentive overlays, which would allow developers to go higher with their buildings,” said Rock Street resident Robin Husslage. “We are not sure why we would keep that option available when we know developers always take the option to go higher. In our minds, it is contrary to what we see as the very importance of and basis for this rezoning exercise, which is to create a better transition zone between downtown and the Islington Creek neighborhood. Thus, we are not in favor of keeping the incentive overlays.”

Lawrence Cataldo, an abutter on Islington Street, also objected to the incentive overlay districts, calling parts of the rezoning plan “inconsistent with the character of this neighborhood.”

“Our area is a residential area of two- to three-story family dwellings mixed with limited use commercial space,” he said. “This is not the location for an incentive district.”

Martins Burns, a Hanover Street resident, said he “gets suspicious at zoning changes,” noting the many he’s seen in his neighborhood since the 1980s. “I’m very worried about what’s going on. I want to keep the height down a bit.”

Hill Street resident Jenaya Paradis, who said her family is invested in the neighborhood, said she was “very excited” to see the building heights being lowered on Hill Street, per the zoning changes.

Representing Foundry Place LLC, which owns some of the lots in question, Tim Phoenix of Hoefle Phoenix Gormley & Roberts, said the changes would potentially affect lots 6, 3 and 2 at Foundry Place. He said “time is needed to investigate potential impacts” on the overall master plan done in conjunction with the Foundry Place Garage, which calls for a multi-building development.

Deer Street Associates has proposed four buildings to be built near the city�s Foundry Place Garage, including a 5-story hotel, a 5-story building with 45 residences and five workforce housing units, and a 4-story, 43-apartment building, which the developer tried to change to a 6-story hotel, but the Zoning Board of Adjustment rejected two of the variances needed to do so.

Walker suggested the city schedule a public dialogue session between the Planning Board and interested residents and developers. No vote was taken Thursday night.

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