2014-04-25 / Front Page

City eyesore may get overhaul

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer


The Aspasia Marina, located at 257 Front Street in South Portland, has been the target of neighbors who want the dilapidated buildings on the site rehabilitated or torn down. (Duke Harrington photo) The Aspasia Marina, located at 257 Front Street in South Portland, has been the target of neighbors who want the dilapidated buildings on the site rehabilitated or torn down. (Duke Harrington photo) Aspasia Marina, a longtime eyesore on the South Portland waterfront that has also been a sore sport for its Ferry Village neighbors, may finally get an overhaul this summer.

“It looks like there’s a party that’s quite interested in taking on what is a rather distressed property,” said Mayor Jerry Jalbert. “We might have something pretty spectacular coming along fairly soon. Something could be inked as early as this summer.”

That will come as welcome news to members of the Ferry Village Neighborhood Conservation Association.

The association was founded in 1985 to beat back an 85-unit condominium project proposed for a new wharf jutting out into the Fore River next to the U.S. Coast Guard base. Thanks to the neighborhood association, the proposal was whittled down to 15 shoreside units.


In this undated 19th century photo supplied by the South Portland Historical Society, a new crossriver ferry is launched from the shipyard that is today known as the Aspasia Marina. (Photo at left courtesy of South Portland Historial Society) In this undated 19th century photo supplied by the South Portland Historical Society, a new crossriver ferry is launched from the shipyard that is today known as the Aspasia Marina. (Photo at left courtesy of South Portland Historial Society) Although active for many years after that first big battle, the association grew dormant in the last few years, until reinvigorated by recent talk of a concert venue to be built on land owned by developer John Cacoulidis adjacent to Bug Light Park.

Although Assistant City Manager Jon Jennings, who hatched the idea, has said Cacoulidis simply decided to pursue other long-term ideas for the site, Ferry Village residents at a March 13 meeting, the first held by the group in more than 18 months, credited themselves with killing the project, with vocal outcry online and in emails to the city.

At that March 13 meeting, about 40 association members then turned their eyes to Aspasia, said to be the second-oldest shipyard in America, dating to its founding in as the Portland Ship Yard Co.

“It’s a dump,” said Joseph Capelluti of High Street. “It has rats all around it. I’m sure if my house looked like that I’d have to do something. Why is the city doing nothing about that site that looks like it’s buildings are about to fall in?”

City Councilor Tom Blake asked a similar question last year when the city used a provision in a nuisance ordinance updated in late 2012 to force Wythburn Road resident Craig Patterson to clean debris from his yard, based on a petition signed by neighboring residents.

“I can’t understand, for the life of me, why we went after this poor guy, to make him rake his lawn, when we let this marina go,” said Blake, advising association members that a petition signed by just 10 residents could compel action by the code enforcement department.

Members seemed eager to pursue that course of action, and discussed it again at an April 10 election of officers, but ultimately let it go for now.

“We decided to reorganize first and give it a few months before we start tackling political issues,” said Blake, an active member of the group, although not an officer.

However, Blake said the city should address apparent code violations at the marina (one building is partially collapsed, while another is boarded up and has a visibly swaybacked roof) as well as issues noted on annual fire department inspections, without regard for what development projects may or may not be coming down the pike.

“To me, what kinds of project might be in the wings is irrelevant. You have to address life safety issues on their own merit,” he said.

According to Jennings, who has been working with the property owner on development possibilities for more than a year, the marina itself is not being replaced. In fact, the owners, residents of California, have recently agreed to add bathroom facilities, something the dilapidated 19th century buildings at 257 Front St. have long lacked.

“I have developed a pretty good relationship with the owners,” Jennings said. “In fact, we were in talks over the weekend trying to work through a variety of issues. The cleanup of the site is certainly something we are working on.

“We’re still trying to work through these things,” said Jennings, alluding to future development plans, although he declined to speak about anything specific, including any property sale that might be in the works.

“There is general cleanup going on on the property,” he added. “They were frankly working all last summer on various projects on the site. We are hopefully going to get together very soon, as soon as they are back in Maine, to work on some of the other issues that we are told the residents of Ferry Village are concerned about.”

Jennings said he hopes within the next two weeks to get work on the city’s application for a Brownfield assessment grant

Brownfields, former industrial sites potentially contaminated by fuels, oils and other hazardous materials, have been targeted for environmental cleanup, sometimes called “superfund” sites if lingering health hazards are great enough, since the early 1990s. South Portland hopes to get one grant to look for hazardous materials, as well as one geared specifically toward old petroleum spills.

In the case of property under private ownership, the city can conduct the environmental assessment – or use the grant money to hire a consulting firm – but any of the costs of an actual cleanup required would be the responsibility of the property owner.

Either way, getting a clean bill of health is the first step in redeveloping former industrial sites, Jennings said.

The Aspasia Marina owners have had longstanding hopes of building a hotel on the site, according to Jennings, but economic reality has often stepped in the way. Often, when brownfields are discussed, the fear of even greater costs emerges, but Jennings says he’s been working with the property owners during the past few months and that “initial discussions were about re-imagining the property.”

“There is concern that if we start this big discussion about brownfields and possible contaminants, and anything is found, then all of a sudden someone swoops in and closes their marina, and then they have no source of income, and I get that,” Jennings said.

Partly for that reason, he said, the city has been reluctant to force the issue on the current condition of the marina buildings.

Meanwhile, Jalbert said talk of a new owner might mean something new for South Portland.

“One of the ideas I did hear about is some kind on boutique restaurant, although I have no idea what a ‘boutique’ restaurant might be.”

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