Portland City Council approves parking, housing changes

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PORTLAND — In what amounted to 22 minutes of deliberation and voting Monday, City Councilors revised parking and housing regulations.

The council also scheduled a Feb. 1 hearing on the proposed $29.7 million bond needed to replace Fred P. Hall Elementary School at 23 Orono Road. The bond and construction project will also be discussed at a 5 p.m. council workshop on Monday, Jan. 11.

Councilors also had a first reading on a ordinance amendment that would require some tour companies to register with the city.

The revisions to parking policies along Congress, Valley and A streets will limit some previously unrestricted parking to 30-minute, one-hour or two-hour time periods. In some instances, such as a stretch of the south side of Congress Street near Valley, no-parking zones will be changed to allow 30-minute parking.

A memo to the City Council from city Transportation Systems Engineer Jeremiah Bartlett noted the changes were requested by the St. John Valley Neighborhood Association in response to more frequent and longer use of unrestricted parking spaces “by various users, most often Maine Medical Center employees.”

City Manager Jon Jennings welcomed the revisions.

“I believe this neighborhood should be treated like other areas of the city,” he said.

Housing

The council, with Councilor Ed Suslovic absent, unanimously approved revisions to the zoning code regarding replacement of housing units lost through demolition or other means.

The ordinance was first passed in 2002 and last amended in 2011. The changes adopted Monday were described by city Planning and Urban Development Director Jeff Levine as “relatively minor, but important ways to fine-tune” the ordinance.

Anyone removing or demolishing housing units is required to replace them or pay a per unit fee to the city Housing Trust Fund. The fee is currently $64,000. The revisions approved Monday require the replacement units to be no farther from the original units than 1,500 feet and in the same block, as defined by U.S. Census data.

Developers who remove units will have three years after posting a performance guaranty or letter of credit in lieu of replacing the units before the bond is collected for the trust fund.

The zoning revisions also define any housing unit deliberately left vacant for three years as removed from city housing stock and subject to the replacement fee to the trust fund.

Hall School

It took two minutes to schedule the hearing date for the Hall School bond. The state Department of Education will reimburse all but $1.4 million of the construction bond. 

The School Board, with member Sarah Thompson opposed, forwarded the bond question to the City Council on Dec. 8.

The demolition and construction project was added to the state’s Major Capital Construction Approved Project List last April, and more than half of the city expenditures above the state funding will be for a gymnasium and cafeteria.

The bond will require voter approval, and a referendum date has not been scheduled.

Tour company regulations

The new regulations for guided tour companies operating in the city would require a $300 annual company registration fee, plus an annual $30 fee for each vehicle operator for tour companies now primarily operating along Commercial Street.

The ordinance would also require companies to submit more detailed records about employees and insurance to the city, and to display identification plates on vehicles and badges on drivers.

Last November, Adam Lee, the associate city corporation counsel, said the rules could affect as many as 20 companies; he estimated there are five or six major providers in the city.

The proposed new regulations were welcomed by some company owners as a way to ensure safety for customers in an industry that has been growing.

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

The Portland City Council on Monday, Jan. 4, approved a first reading of ordinance amendments to regulate guided tour companies.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.