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- The Forecaster
PORTLAND — Redlon Park, a neighborhood tucked away near the intersection of Stevens Avenue and Capisic Street, is at the center of two city land-use questions.
On Jan. 3, city councilors approved turning 1.8 acres spread across 16 parcels over to the city land bank for use as public open space. Fifteen of the 16 parcels were acquired by the city for delinquent property taxes; the other is city owned.
Meanwhile, Chabad of Maine later this month expects to complete an application for conditional use at 11 Pomeroy St. that would clarify the organization’s use of its property.
The plans to add land in what is called Redlon Woods to the land bank have been scaled back from at least 21 properties, in part because owners have paid delinquent taxes and fees, and because more boundary surveys are needed on land proposed as a donation.
A scheduled Oct. 6 vote on the land shift was postponed to Jan. 3, in part because Councilor Belinda Ray wanted to be certain the land in question could not be used for affordable housing.
City officials have considered the parcels too difficult to build on because of water and ledge issues, and residents of Redlon Park and Rosemont said the woods are already used for recreation.
City Parks Director Ethan Hipple supported the land donations, saying it would bring the city closer to its goal of having 100 percent of the population living within 10 minutes of a public park or trail, a rate he said is now 87 percent.
Hanover Street resident George Rheault was the only opposing voice in a brief public hearing Jan. 3. He said the land donations would benefit only the wealthy residents in Redlon Park.
June Street resident Maura Price disagreed, adding the land donations have been discussed for three years.
“It would solidly benefit many people,” she said. “This has as much to do with Rosemont as Redlon Park.”
City Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said the open space could be expanded with future acquisitions, and favored moving ahead with donating what the city clearly owned to the land bank.
Once in the bank, the parcels could only be sold with approval from eight councilors, unless potential sales were also backed in a city referendum.
Rabbi Moshe Wilansky did not return phone calls asking about the conditional use application for Chabad of Maine, part of an Orthodox Jewish, Hasidic movement known for its outreach. His attorney, Tom Federle, on Jan. 3 said the request to have the home at 11 Pomeroy St. designated a religious place of assembly is in keeping with how it is already used.
According to its website, Chabad of Maine offers religious services, lodging, a two-week youth summer camp and lodging at the home, which is now classified as a single-family home.
The R-3 zone allows religious places of assembly as a conditional use, but Planning Board approval is required, and the application will be subject to a public hearing. If granted, the conditional use would also make it possible for Chabad of Maine to seek tax-exempt status with the city.
The Chabad of Maine home is also being expanded; two floors totalling about 1,000 square feet are under construction.
The conditional use application concerns Jeff Emerson, who lives nearby on Redlon Park Road. Emerson is also treasurer of the neighborhood association, but has spoken for himself when pressing city officials to carefully enforce zoning rules.
“I want what all people want, good neighbors,” Emerson said in a Dec. 1 email to Federle and city Planning Director Tuck O’Brien.
Emerson said he wants the city to ensure Chabad will not continue to grow in size and expand its services beyond what is now offered, and to enforce its rule that no more than 15 people unrelated to Wilansky can stay at the home at any time.
Emerson also said he would like a commitment from Chabad not to buy any more homes in the neighborhood as a way of expanding its outreach and services, and has suggested Wilansky meet with neighbors to give them a better idea of what Chabad of Maine offers.
“The application that is before the city isn’t expanding anything,” Federle said. “I think it is normal for neighbors to be concerned with what the future may hold.”
As Chabad of Maine expands on Pomeroy Street in Portland, neighbors are concerned a conditional use application with the city will mean its activity related to religious outreach will expand, too.