Working Waterfront Initiative

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Case Study: Zoning for a Vital Waterfront

Portland waterfront uses photo diagramIn the height of the 1980s development boom, the City of Portland took a courageous step to ensure the continuing vitality of its working waterfront. It crafted an ordinance that established a "waterfront central zone" to "protect and nurture water-dependent and marine-related support uses so that they may grow and prosper in an environment and area dedicated to this purpose." Its waterfront zoning policy (see accompanying graphic) grew out of public concern over the conversion of working piers into condominiums: "one cannot overemphasize the importance of an involved, informed and dedicated citizenry in the process of crafting waterfront policy," notes William Needelman, City of Portland Senior Planner. A citizen's referendum in 1987 prompted a moratorium on non-marine development that solidified the City's commitment to waterfront zoning

Soon after, a policy document created by the Waterfront Alliance (a nonprofit organization of pier owners, activists, waterfront business owners and interested citizens) began guiding the creation of waterfront zoning. The City participated in the Alliance's negotiations and policy-drafting, and eventually directed City Planning staff to implement the Alliance report recommendations through a revised zoning code (adopted in 1994). Since then, zoning has allowed a balance of uses while preserving traditional marine uses.

While Portland's response was unique to its circumstances, many coastal communities have crafted marine ordinances with similar goals in order to:

  • restrict certain areas for water-dependent uses;
  • give priority to commercial water-dependent uses over recreational uses;
  • require that certain users provide and maintain access to the waterfront;
  • allow mixed uses only if the ancillary uses are secondary to the water-dependent ones;
  • limit the size and height of non-marine structures;
  • regulate construction on docks and wharves; and
  • establish standards for refueling areas and spill prevention and clean-up.

return to "What's in a Waterfront Ordinance?"