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Panel proposes changes to Portland housing replacement rules

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Panel proposes changes to Portland housing replacement rules

PORTLAND — The Housing Committee is recommending several changes to a city ordinance that requires property owners to either replace or pay a fee for housing units they remove from the market.

A draft of the new Housing Replacement Ordinance will be reviewed by the committee in March. It will include exemptions for certain parts of the city, a trigger year for properties to be included and inclusion of certain types of housing currently not included in the ordinance.

The current 7-year-old ordinance came under fire in the fall, after the City Council excused a Congress Street project by philanthropist Roxanne Quimby from having to pay more than $400,000 into the replacement fund because it deemed the project to be of "special merit." Quimby is removing six apartment units and turning the building into artist studios.

At the same time, the city's planning authority determined that the owner of a building at the corner of Washington Avenue and Congress Street needed to demolish the dilapidated building and was required to pay $150,000 into the replacement fund for three units. The determination came despite arguments from owner Alec Altman and his attorney that there had not been residential units in the building for more than 50 years.

The city's decision was based on tax records. Penny Littell, the city's director of planning and urban development, has since acknowledged the tax record discrepancies are an issue.

One of the changes the Housing Committee is proposing is that there should be a way for the property owners to prove a use was changed, even if no formal change of use was sought through the city.

The new ordinance would also exclude properties in zones where residential uses are no longer permitted, and Housing Committee member Councilor David Marshall said he wants staff to examine certain business zones where some forms of housing are permitted, but which have been essentially non-residential for a long period of time.

Currently, the City Council reviews "projects of special merit" to determine if they qualify for exemptions. Housing Chairman Councilor John Anton said the new ordinance needs to define "special merit." Marshall and Anton also want either the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Appeals to hear cases of special merit.

"I don't think it should go to the City Council at all," Marshall said at a committee meeting Tuesday.

Anton, however, cautioned that he had already heard from at least one councilor who wants to retain the council's authority on the exemptions.

Other proposed changes include that properties converted prior to 2002 – the year the original ordinance was adopted – be excluded and that shelters, dormitories and senior housing be included in the new ordinance.

The committee also supported changing the way in which property owners are charged if they choose to pay into the Housing Replacement Fund instead of replacing units. Currently, property owners are charged between $30,000 and $50,000 for each unit removed, and it applies to property owners wishing to remove three or more units.

The committee is proposing that the fee be based instead on square footage.

The Housing Committee meets next on March 2 at 5 p.m. in Room 209 at City Hall.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net