Group hopes to strengthen Portland's India Street neighborhood

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PORTLAND — Residents, businesses and property owners in the India Street corridor are creating a neighborhood association to deal with vacant properties, trash and chronic trespassing in the area.

A small organizing group met Sept. 28 to discuss common concerns and brought in a community planning consultant to help them officially set up the association.

Real estate broker Joseph Malone, who owns several buildings along Middle Street between Franklin and India, spearheaded the effort. He said this week that he has been contemplating starting a neighborhood organization for quite a while as a way to deal with graffiti, crime, and vacant lots that have become collectors for unwanted furniture and trash.

Because of the economy, Malone said, three or four planned major developments have stalled and contributed to problems in the area.

At the Sept. 28 meeting, the group discussed what it considered concerns and interests from residential and commercial neighbors. The topics included public drunkenness; graffiti; trash, including outdoor alcohol “stashes”; general neighborhood decay; vacant lots turning into campsites for the homeless and quality-of-life issues.

The group has also reached out to Milestones, the India Street shelter for active alcoholics and drug users, to get that organization involved in the conversation.

The neighborhood is roughly defined as the area between Franklin Street and Mountfort Street, and Congress Street and Fore Street.

“The chain link fences, the dumped furniture, the weeds,” Malone said. “It looks like hell.”

The group has already spoken to some ownes of vacant properties, and Malone said he has had a mostly positive response. He said owners of the former Village Cafe property on Newbury Street, where a proposed condominium development has languished, have committed to cleaning up their lot.

“We really need that organized voice,” Malone said.

While some would like to see the chain link fences come down and the vacant property owners be allowed to use their parcels for parking until the economy allows for development, he said city zoning does not allow such a use.

The neighborhood is further challenging, Malone said, because of its mix of commercial and residential uses, and a wide range of income groups, from subsidized renters to wealthy property owners.

The organizing group plans to meet next week to finalize plans and soon after that will hold an open meeting for residents, businesses and property owners interested in joining, Malone said.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or