On July 11, Portland City Council’s Community Development Committee (CDC) voted two-to-one to recommend Ocean Properties Ltd., of Portsmouth over The Olympia Cos., of Portland, as the company best suited to redevelop Maine State Pier. This story of dueling developers (WWF May 2007) might well have ended that evening, were it not for the continuing discourse between the developers, their lawyers and their respective public relations firms over CDC’s decisions regarding the project’s deadlines and how the city’s rules are to be applied.

Typically, once the CDC selects a developer a subcommittee negotiates a contract, which then heads to Portland’s full council for approval. In this case, however, the council is unlikely to rubber-stamp the committee’s recommendation, and the discussion and controversy will continue.

“The $100 million development of Maine State Pier is not only crucial to the development of Portland,” said committee member Jim Cloutier, before casting his vote for Ocean Properties. “It’s also the most important infrastructure for the working waterfront in the State of Maine.”

Throughout August, in public workshops and behind-the-scenes meetings, Portland’s City Council will work to decide whether Ocean Properties or The Olympia Cos. of Portland will be awarded the opportunity to fix the aging pier and build a hotel, office building and other a host of other facilities.

Now, in addition to Portland City Council members, both developers must also seek the approval of many new key players – a long list of government agencies, each with its own take on applicable laws. Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection must weigh in on what may be built both below and above the pier. The state Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands (which manages all the state’s submerged land leases) and the Department of Marine Resources may also have jurisdiction in this matter. The Maine Department of Transportation must be on board. The Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will all play different roles.

One aspect of Maine State Pier’s development under scrutiny is the “shed” adjacent to Casco Bay Lines. In order to get what’s called a “permit by rule” under the state Natural Resource Protection Act (NRPA), explains Bob Baldacci, Ocean Properties vice president, any proposed project involving the redevelopment of the pier for non-marine use would be denied. “So we had to use the footprint of the existing shed,” said Baldacci. “It’s 1,000 feet long and 30 feet high dropping eventually to 19 feet, so the six-story office building in our original plan could not be permitted.”

Sasa Cook, Olympia Cos.’ project manager for the Maine State Pier proposal, wants to tear down part of the shed to build a 175-room hotel, retaining the underlying metal skin of the southerly portion. In a rare moment of agreement, Olympia’s attorney, Michael Saxl, joined Ocean Properties’ attorney, Ron Ward, in arguing that NRPA is open to interpretation. “Olympia argues that anything higher than the transit shed that complies with the Eastern Waterfront Plan falls in conflict with NRPA,” explained Cook. “NRPA says that you cannot build outside the existing footprint of the shed, not only side-by-side, but up and down — and the spirit of the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan is about maximizing potential on the eastern part of Portland.”

Bob Baldacci, on the other hand, decided to use the shed’s three-dimensional footprint for something other than a non-compliant six-story office building. “Given the realities of the permitting process, we used this as an opportunity to refine our plan,” said Baldacci.

Now Ocean Properties proposes to replace the shed’s footprint with a two-acre “roofscape,” a harbor observatory, an office and storage for Ocean Gate Office, support space for fireboats, a tug warehouse, a smaller office with lobby, a 99-car mixed-used parking garage, and a farmers’ and fishermen’s co-op.