As the eastern waterfront braces for Portland’s brave new world of development, Maine State Pier finds itself at the center of some controversy. Construction on Ocean Gateway, the city’s new cruise ship terminal, is underway, but so is discussion on the Portland City Council’s proposed zoning changes on this Portland-owned pier.

More than 600 of the pier’s 4,500 pilings are seriously damaged, according to Larry Mead, assistant city manager, so Portland officials are considering leasing parts of the pier to well-heeled tenants financially able to assume some of the high costs of maintaining it.

No homes, no casinos and definitely no amusement parks, of course — these non-marine use restrictions are forbidden in big, bold letters. But how about a new hotel?

It all started last June, when the city’s Community Development Committee (CDC) issued an amendment to Portland’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, noting concern that the aging facility is in need of significant structural investment, specifically pertaining to the 1922 transit shed and the 1,000-foot berth along the easterly pier edge. The city’s planning committee responded quickly, vehemently rejecting this amendment, in part, it appears, because sufficient public input hadn’t been solicited and incorporated. So, in a meeting on Aug. 9, city councilors voted to encourage a consensus, ordering the Community Development Committee (CDC) to meet regularly with the planning committee in the coming weeks to refine one proposal that might be ready for a council vote in September.

The idea of building a hotel on Maine State Pier is definitely controversial. Last winter, private pier owners in Portland received rezoning allowances that increased the opportunities for ample new non-marine development opportunities — the building of a hotel, however, was conspicuously absent from this list. Pier owners complain that they should be allowed the same development opportunities as the city now carefully weighs for itself.

“The text for waterfront central zoning was already substantially changed and broadened for non-marine use,” comments Bill Needleman, senior planner for Portland. “Recent rezoning contributes opportunities for considerable non-marine development — just not a hotel.”

On Maine State Pier, however, zoning permission for hotel construction is an entirely different matter. “Here we have an underutilized pier with little use other than wide berthing, and alternative uses should be considered,” continues Needleman.

Currently, what exactly stands on Maine State Pier? The present list includes the following: the Casco Bay Island Transit District facility, the Portland Ocean Terminal and Ocean Gateway, open space and public access to the water, particularly through two public parks, Compass Park and Buoy Park, and two public boat landing serving recreational, commercial and water taxi vessels, emergency response vessel support and tugboat berthing.

Taken together, however, these ventures fail to bring in sufficient income to fund essential repairs to the dilapidated pilings underneath. Rezoning would permit the addition of money-making enterprises — like Ocean Properties, for example, a Portsmouth, NH, and Florida-based development company that has enjoyed considerable success in shuttling travelers from cruise ships to hotels in their Florida businesses.

Continued public access for the community is at the heart of concern over the development of Maine State Pier. “Expanded public use is a critical point here,” asserts Mead.

“For many visitors and citizens alike, Maine State Pier is their only point of vantage and access to experience the heart of the working harbor,” states the Community Development Committee (CDC) report of last summer.

James Cloutier, head of the CDC, says he’s adamant that existing public access to this pier be in no way compromised by future development. “The whole purpose of our proposal was to increase the viability of public access to Maine State Pier, and by the way, when exactly was the last time anyone saw the other side of that big, blue shed, which we didn’t realize until a couple years ago is completely worthless as a warehouse and needs to be torn down?”

Also on the eastern waterfront development scene, the Procaccianti Group, the Rhode Island firm leading the development of a $110 million hotel and condominium complex on the site of the former Jordan’s Meats facility, has announced plans to modify its proposal. The original plan included a 230-room Westin hotel, 92 luxury condos, about 20,000 square feet of retail space and hundreds of underground parking spaces. Tom Niles, executive vice president of development for the Procaccianti Group, said plans now call for “significantly” smaller number of condo units and a reduction in the number of hotel rooms.

“Our comprehensive project has always called for a mixed-use development. In the current market place, there’s a significant drop in the absorption of the existing residential market.”

So he’s cutting the number of condos down from 92 to a new, as yet undisclosed number. Few condos mean few hotel rooms — why? “Our residential complex has to support the basis for our hotel,” explains Niles, “so as we reduce the number of condos, so we must reduce the number of hotel rooms — in a mixed-use development they must all work together.”

Niles, like others, is looking closely at the Maine State Pier situation.

Over at the Riverwalk project, another major eastern waterfront development about to break ground, the planned waterfront condominiums have been renamed Longfellow Ocean Gateway. All 116 condominiums, starting at $500,000, will enjoy waterfront views and feature luxury concierge amenities: valet parking, laundry service and a restaurant promising condo-room service promise to sweeten the pleasure of homeowners’ Casco Bay views. Drew Swenson, co-developer of Longfellow, estimates that his primary buyers will be out-of-state residents looking to purchase a second home in Portland and “escape their current lifestyle for a more Maine way of life.”

Why the name change from Riverwalk to Longfellow Ocean Gateway? Swenson explains that the name Longfellow conjures images of the poet’s beloved city by the sea. “And what Longfellow did with poetry we’re trying to do with our residences,” explains Swenson.