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South Portland council updates city's goals, aspirations

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South Portland council updates city's goals, aspirations

SOUTH PORTLAND — The immediate effects of some decisions made this week by the City Council will be seen in residences and restaurants.

But council approval of updates to the Comprehensive Plan could determine city policy for the next two decades.

Councilors approved amendments to the general nuisance ordinance, allowing neighbors of properties posing possible health, safety and environmental problems to ask the council to order a cleanup.

The city also adopted updated state health codes for city inspections of food establishments, which allows continued municipal inspections by code enforcement staff.

It was the passage of 319 pages of Comprehensive Plan updates and data, culminating a 30-month effort led by Councilor Maxine Beecher, that drew praise and vows to implement recommended changes to preserve open spaces, develop commercial areas and ensure housing remains affordable.

Beecher collaborated with Planning Director Tex Haeuser, Code Enforcement Officer Patricia Doucette and former Director of Economic Development Erik Carson, as well as 19 volunteers who generally met twice a month.

Three public forums were held to gauge public opinion on the city's needs and desires.

Councilor Tom Coward, who also participated, said Beecher led with focus, but knew when to allow more deliberation.

"This is a guide for the decisions the city must make," Beecher said.

The updates revise a 20-year-old document, while showing how changes over the last decade have reshaped city life.

City population increased 7 percent from 2000-2010, while the number of residents working in the city declined. Housing experienced significant increases in the first half of the last decade, and the plan estimates there were only 700 acres of undeveloped city land in 2010.

City streams and creeks including Trout Brook and Long Creek are considered "urban impaired," requiring policy changes and clean-up efforts to help improve ecosystems in the watersheds.

The plan found most jobs in the Maine Mall area are filled by people who don't live in the city, so regional collaboration to improve roads and public transportation is also a priority.

As Mark Eyerman of Portland-based consultant Planning Decisions noted, the key is implementation.

"In a way, it may be the most important part," Eyerman said.

The first step is to create a committee to ensure implementation begins, which will be discussed at an upcoming council workshop.

Plan implementation extends to regional collaborations on land use and transportation policies, short- and long-range planning on municipal spending, and determining what can be done in the months and years ahead.

With passage of the amendments to the general nuisance ordinance, the council is now empowered to hold hearings and determine if a property can be considered a public nuisance because it endangers public health and safety.

Councilors can be petitioned by 10 neighbors who live within 500 feet of a property or by city officials and department heads to call a hearing. If councilors determine a property is a nuisance, the owner can be ordered to clean it up within 15 days or face a court order and potential fines of $100 to $2,500 per day with a $5,000 maximum. The fines are based on state law.

In other business, as the council and South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond honored Engine 6 Capt. Joe Nalbach for his 45 years of service, councilors also approved the purchase of a new pumper truck for $450,000.

The truck, constructed by Pierce Manufacturing of Appleton, Wis., will replace Engine 8 at Central Fire Station, Guimond said. The chief said he expects delivery of the new truck about six months after a contract is signed.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.