New height overlay zoning proposed to protect the vista from Fort Sumner Park

  Postcard view of Fort Sumner Park around the turn of the 20th century.

Postcard view of Fort Sumner Park around the turn of the 20th century.

Portland's Planning Board will consider whether or not to protect existing public views to Back Cove and Mount Washington from Fort Sumner Park this Tuesday night. The purpose of the overlay is "to protect the public interest by limiting the impact of development on the quintessential views of natural resources." According to a report compiled by city staff, the vista from Fort Sumner Park has been identified for its value as a panorama for over 100 years. In the City's Downtown Height Study completed in 1989, it was singled out for its views of the city skyline and water and as a vista to receive "special attention".  The proposed overlay would limit the height of buildings in the R-6 zone below the park to the level of the park's viewing platform and would impact only six parcels. 

Greater Portland Landmarks supports the proposed amendment because it will protect the essential reason for the park and fort's location on this site while research can be undertaken to document the site's historic and cultural significance. The Friends of Fort Sumner Park have requested local landmark designation and are working to research the site, raise awareness of its significance, and advocate for its preservation. While the park has had a long history as a military and a recreational site, little remains above ground to tell the story of the original Fort Sumner and the late 19th century design of the park. Additional study of the park through archaeological investigations would expand local knowledge of the fort, its passageway and waterfront battery, and its 19th century park design.  

Upon further research, local designation of the park as a historic site may be appropriate. The vista out over the western side of Portland would be a major character-defining feature for both its period of significance as a fort and as a park.  If the vista were to be lost, it would severely impact the future possibility of the park's designation as a historic landscape.