Portland City Council approves Woodfords Corner improvements

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PORTLAND — It was a night of lingering questions Monday for city councilors.

In a three-hour meeting, they approved agreements to revamp streets and sidewalks at Woodfords Corner, and repave Danforth Street; set a date for the school budget referendum, and amended the permit fee structure that will be used to fund the city Department of Permitting and Inspections.

The agreement with the state Department of Transportation on the $2.6 million project to improve overall accessibility in Woodfords Corner comes a year after it was first introduced to the City Council and after the DOT increased funding for work on the Pan Am Rail grade crossing on Forest Avenue.

The city’s share for the entire project will be almost $640,500, according to project materials.

The overall scope of the work extended from the grade crossing back to the confluence of Forest and Deering avenues and Woodford Street, and will include widened sidewalks, improved bike lanes and streetscape work.

City Manager Jon Jennings said the work will not begin this year, but he hopes the project will go out to bid in the fall and construction can begin in the spring of 2017.

“It will take a lot of work and it will be disruptive to the area,” Jennings said.

The repaving of Danforth Street between High and York streets required a three-party agreement between the city, DOT and the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System.

The $250,000 project carries a city share of $62,000, and will include a reconfiguration of the York and Danforth streets intersection and removing a traffic signal.

However, of importance to councilors – including Nick Mavodones Jr. – was what was not included, specifically parking changes of the kind seen on Spring Street.

When to vote

The $103.7 million education budget faces a May 10 referendum vote, with polls open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Councilors unanimously approved the date, but again debated whether the referendum should be held a month later to coincide with primary elections.

Councilor Ed Suslovic noted residents will be going to the polls April 5 to vote on the $29.7 million bond to build a new Fred P. Hall Elementary School, then back on May 10 for the school budget, and then again on June 14 for the party primary elections. Each election is estimated to cost $15,000.

City voters have twice supported continuing referendum votes, and will be asked to do so again this year. Mayor Ethan Strimling said he would like to see an end to referendums on the school budget, required by state law unless voters reject having them.

Mavodones said he still prefers the referendums to be held in May because of the time needed to present new budgets and complications to collective labor agreements that can occur when a budget is rejected by voters.

Grandfather clause

Developers or homeowners who have city approval by administrative order or from the Planning Board by March 31 will be allowed to pay $11, per estimated $1,000 cost in building fees, but must apply for the permits by Sept. 30.

The amendment to the ordinance creating the Department of Permitting and Inspections was passed by a 7-1 vote, with Councilor Jon Hinck opposed.

The vote settled the question of how the new $15 per $1,000 building permit fee will be assessed to fund the personnel and technology needed for the office, approved by councilors March 7.

Councilors also approved revisions to affordable housing fees tied to the increase in building permit fees, but the larger question of how to apply the overall increase was the key issue in a 90-minute debate.

Both amendments, originally offered by Councilor David Brenerman, had been forwarded to the Planning Board after the March 7 meeting, and were tweaked again as the council deliberated Monday.

At stake is about $600,000 in revenue, and Brenerman said it was a matter of fairness that projects, including the Midtown development on Somerset Street, not be assessed higher fees after already gaining Planning Board approval.

Councilor Belinda Ray successfully offered the new date pertaining to project approval and the Sept. 30 date designed to keep projects moving forward.

“I am still not in favor of grandfathering, grandmothering, or grandparenting anything that does not have a date when the permit is pulled,” she said.

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

Portland City Councilor Belinda Ray argues Monday in favor of a Sept. 30 deadline for developers to apply for building permits at discounted rates. Next to her is Councilor Justin Costa.

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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.