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South Portland commission may do heavy lifting on open space

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South Portland commission may do heavy lifting on open space

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday continued its discussion of how best to implement an open space philosophy, and weighed the possibility of having the Conservation Commission do most of the work.

City Manager Jim Gailey presented a list of nearly 300 city-owned parcels, ranging in size from 0.2 acres to nearly 150 acres, and, echoing sentiments from councilors at a workshop two weeks ago, called the project "gigantic."

Although some of the parcels are already under deeds or easements, not all warrant protection, Gailey said.

Councilors Patti Smith and Tom Blake were most enthusiastic about making the process part of a long-term strategy that eventually could be integrated into the city's Comprehensive Plan.

Smith said the Conservation Commission should be a "key stakeholder" and should partner with the South Portland Land Trust to draft clear documents, possibly with the help of a paid expert, that can be presented and adopted into ordinance. 

The process needs to be "all-encompassing," Blake said, with a full range of community representation and involvement. 

"I only trust those two partners involved if they involve citizens," Smith said. "The people own the land." Without adequate community input, "it's a flawed mission," she said.

Smith, who was been a proponent of integrating open space zones into city zoning, said she would like to see "us, as a council, adopt that type of language."

In essence, what the town produces for an open space plan will have to be strong enough to guide new councilors down the same path; it remains important to "guide future councils beyond what we are today," Smith said. 

To execute the project well, paying for the services of an expert to spearhead the project, possibly from the Trust for Public Lands, might be necessary, Smith and Blake said. 

"We need to determine what we want in our community. Do we want a park in every neighborhood?" Blake said. 

The city began efforts to form an Open Space Strategic Plan in 2001. At Monday's workshop, Blake said one reason the plan never achieved momentum is because it was never formally adopted by the council.

The issue now is a "paramount concern for our community," he said. 

At this point, drafting an open space policy requires much more than simply protecting properties, Blake said; it requires the adoption of a contextual perspective.

"It's our philosophies," he said. "It's where we're going, it's (about considering what is happening) worldwide, (and) what's working, what's not working."

 The council will continue the discussion in a Monday, Aug. 10, workshop. 

 Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA