Dozens attend South Portland long-term planning forum

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A committee charged with updating the city’s long-term vision met for the third and final time with residents on Tuesday, presenting them with a series of goals for South Portland’s next 20 years.

About 70 residents at the Community Center broke out into small groups to provide feedback about policy recommendations regarding demographics, the local economy, natural resource management, the waterfront, transportation, housing, public facilities, parks, finance and more.

Their feedback – in the form of surveys, notes and comments – will go back to the Comprehensive Plan Committee, which will consider it before making another round of edits to the document.

“The committee takes what they hear at these sessions seriously,” Mark Eyerman of Planning Solutions, a consultant and member of the committee, said. “We’re here for you to tell us what you think.”

The Comprehensive Plan is a set of recommendations the city uses as a guide for making long-term decisions about everything from land use to landscaping. The earliest version of the document was written in the 1940s, and the most recent update was completed in 1992.

The scope of residents’ feedback is still being compiled by the Planning Department, but here’s how one break-out group – made up of city officials, residents and nonresident – responded to the committee’s recommendations:

• A policy to “streamline the development review process for commercial development, to make it more efficient and productive while reducing the review time” was roundly criticized. Group members, including City Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis, said it could be interpreted to mean the city will green-light any developer without proper consideration.

• A plan to establish a mitigation structure for development that impacts wetlands or vernal pools received lukewarm feedback, with some residents saying its best that they not be impacted in the first place.

• Recommendations for increased effort to improve public transportation, bicycle/pedestrian access and the creation of a ferry connection from Spring Point to Portland and the islands of Casco Bay were enthusiastically supported. So were plans to emphasize park maintenance and developing a “climate action plan” that spells out how the city will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

• The group had questions about the creation of one-way streets in parts of the city to improve traffic congestion, and a “concept” that the city pursue economic growth with an eye toward expanding the tax base.

Another group wrote on a large pad of paper that the vague “phrasing of concepts make it hard to vote them down,” but Comprehensive Plan Committee and School Board member Rick Carter said broad language is necessary because the plan is meant to guide, not dictate, policy over 20 years. 

“A lot of what’s in this plan is just concept,” Carter said. “More finely tuned development comes later.”

Responding to criticism at earlier forums that attendees were older than the city’s average resident – “We all have either grey hair or no hair,” Eyerman quipped – the Comprehensive Plan committee teamed up with a team of University of Southern Maine professors and students to offer residents an online venue to participate in the Comprehensive Plan rewrite.

Residents (and not just the young ones) can participate in an online video presentation and survey available at southportland.org Until June 23, or an interactive online forum at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 24, with Eyerman and Planning Director Tex Haeuser. Registration for June 24 event is necessary and can be done by emailing chaeuser@southportland.org.

The Comprehensive Plan Committee hopes to have wrapped up a complete update by the end of this summer. To be adopted, the plan will have to be approved by the Planning Board and City Council, both of which will hold additional public forums.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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