SOUTH PORTLAND — A proposal to construct a Martin’s Point Health Care clinic at Ocean and Sawyer streets met with strong opposition from the public at Monday night’s City Council meeting.
Martin’s Point is hoping to build the clinic on city-owned land occupied by the former Hamlin School, which currently houses the Planning and Development Department.
The city also leases part of the property to the Community Garden Collective, whose members maintain a 100-square-foot garden behind the building. The city is “very interested in keeping and preserving” the lease, which expires in April 2016, City Manager Jim Gailey said.
Nearly 40 people addressed the council in a required public hearing on the proposal.
Dick Daigle, vice president of support services at Martin’s Point, presented preliminary plans for the parcel, which would allow for a facility up to 17,500 square feet. But after hearing public comment, Daigle said he had a “gut feeling” that a building of 12,000-14,000 square feet would better suit the area.
Martin’s Point is a nonprofit health care provider with about 800 employees, 30 of whom now work in South Portland in a 10,000-square-foot facility at 51 Ocean St.
“When we looked at options for the relocation of this operation, we made a decision that we really wanted to stay in this area … to continue to serve the community in this vicinity of South Portland,” Daigle told the council.
The preliminary plans show the building fronting the intersection, with a parking lot behind it.
The facility would likely require a relocation of the community garden, Daigle said, and take away a considerable amount of green space left on the parcel.
Many of the people commenting Monday cited a need to maintain the open space.
“I’m really concerned with the open space on this end of the city,” said Helen Slocum, president of the Community Garden Collective.
Slocum suggested partnering with the South Portland Land Trust to establish a conversation easement for the open space behind the building.
Resident Greg Lewis said the only way he would support a Martin’s Point facility on the parcel is if the organization came up “with an equal or greater amount of green space to donate to the city on top of paying for this property.”
Other residents were more blunt. “To me, this is the first step in the degradation of this neighborhood,” said Seth Kearns.
Resident Sandy Pablo said, “The biggest issue is that this is a neighborhood, this is a community. We bought homes in this community because it is a neighborhood and not a place that had big commercial buildings.
“Shame on the City Council for suggesting to rezone the property.”
Catherine Chapman agreed. “Joni Mitchell said, ‘Pave paradise, put up a parking lot.’ That’s what you’re trying to do here … No building like this should be in our neighborhood.”
Members of the council expressed a desire to continue the conversation, but mostly sided with the public.
“You are the kind of business we want to do business with,” Councilor Claude Morgen said to Daigle. “My suspicion here is that there’s not much to talk about, in terms of your needs.
“What I’m hearing tonight is everything from relinquish zero green space … (to) please carve off in perpetuity something that will live with the land and not the occupier.”
Councilor Tom Blake used the opportunity to highlight what he thinks is the “single, biggest” problem facing the city. “It’s not that we have an open space plan. We don’t haven an open space philosophy.”
Councilor Patti Smith asked residents to think outside the box and continue examining possibilities. “We have to develop and we have to grow, but where we develop makes all the difference (for) the love you have for your city.”
Yet even Smith admitted it was “very hard” for her to “say something of this magnitude and this scale will fit.”
“It’s bigger than the gardening, it’s about preserving the green space.”