PORTLAND — With and $18,000 grant in hand, Portland Trails is ready to assess city-owned open space with an eye to the best future use of the land.
Kara Wooldrik, Portland Trails executive director, announced the grant from the city-based Lerner Foundation at a news conference July 16 at the Ocean Gateway Terminal.
“We expect to be engaging the community as soon as tomorrow,” Wooldrik said, adding more extensive public meetings are expected in the fall, after Portland Trails, the Trust for Public Lands and city staff complete the inventory of what is available.
The city and nonprofits collaborated in the early 1990s to create the trail around Eastern Promenade, from 2006 to 2011 to create the Bayside Trail, and most recently in 2012 to preserve Canco Woods, a 13-acre preserve in the Deering neighborhood.
Wooldrik was joined by Mayor Michael Brennan and Wolfe Tone, state director of the Trust for Public Land, to announce the grant and scope of the work.
“It’s an ambitious project,” Tone said. “We plan to engage literally hundreds of interested parties.”
Brennan, who said the project was one of the goals outlined in his January “State of the City” address, applauded the work that will consider land use, affordable housing, zoning, government regulation and financing issues.
“This will map the future of the city as it relates to open space,” the mayor vowed. Brennan said he expects the inventory process to be easiest and quickest to complete.
Some open space may be used for recreation or conservation, but Brennan noted there are developed parcels in need of consideration, too. He cited the former Goodwill parking lot on Cumberland Avenue as an example, wondering if its best future use is as park space or affordable housing.
City Manager Mark Rees said city staff will be helping out, drawing on sources such as the city’s geographic information system.
Tone said the trust will play a role in inventory and assessment of the open spaces, since it has done similar work throughout the country.
“There are some very sophisticated tools we are bringing to bear,” he said.
The project and plan development will also require help from the city Parks and Land Bank commissions, and Brennan said a key question will be how the commissions relate, and whether one or both commissions should be strengthened.
District 4 City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, co-chairwoman of the Land Bank Commission, said the inventory and use discussions will pull together groups that had been working separately.
“We have always kind of nibbled around the edges,” Leeman said. “It has never been brought all together.”
The grant is a financial starting point, and Brennan and Rees said more funding should be on hand from current and prior capital improvement plan budgets.
“This will also shape future CIP budgets,” Brennan said.
Leeman noted some parcels already known as open space lack the proper zoning to protect them.
“I hope in this process we take a look at our regulations,” she said.
Tone said the initial discussions about open spaces did not revolve around Congress Square Park, although there were what he called “commonalities.”
“They were not linked at the start,” he said. “They were in parallel, but not necessarily linked.”
While it is undetermined how much open space is available and how it can best be protected and used, Tone said he expects the work ahead to be done quickly.
“Nobody is in the mood for a process that goes on and on,” he said.