The Harbors Committee is recommending a change to the city's Harbor Ordinance which would allow the Thompson's Wharf renovation and expansion an expedited approval process.

City Planner Wayne Marshall attended the Harbor Committee meeting Wednesday, Jan. 15, and explained the planned expansion of Thompson's Wharf did not comply with current the ordinance. As such, Marshall said the city would have to go through contract rezoning to be granted the necessary approvals to move forward with the project.

Contract rezoning would take at least two and a half months, since it would require approvals from both the Planning Board and the City Council, Marshall said. That timeline would be difficult since the project is set to begin construction in May, said Harbormaster Katherine Pickering.

Marshall said the Committee could request a ordinance change to the inner harbor that would allow for the expansion of the wharf without going to contract rezoning. Currently the inner harbor does not allow for building a structure beyond 100 feet from the high water mark without going through contract rezoning. The committee could request a change that would allow structures in the inner harbor built out to 25 feet of the channel on the southern side of the harbor. This would allow the city to get approval for the project more quickly because it would not require City Council approval.

Marshall noted that most of the development in the inner harbor is already nearly at the 25-foot-from-the-channel line, so the ordinance change would not effect many property owners. Committee member David Black said he thought changing the ordinance might be seen as unfair by Front Street Shipyard, which had to go through the length-contract-rezoning process to install its docks.

However, the rest of the committee felt that changing the ordinance was the better of the two options to ensure construction of the wharf would begin as planned. The committee voted 3-1-1 with David Black opposed and Jim Black abstaining.

The City Council will consider changing the Harbor Ordinance at its Jan. 21 meeting.