Portland City Council continues buffer zone talks

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PORTLAND — Improvements on Great Diamond Island, a revised process for seeking block grants, and the preservation of a historic Munjoy Hill home headed a brief City Council agenda Monday night.

During an hour-long meeting, councilors also granted an extension for Public Safety, Health & Human Services Committee discussions on a buffer zone outside Planned Parenthood of Northern New England at 439 Congress St.

Councilor Ed Suslovic, the committee chairman, said creating a zone to exclude protesters from the front of the building would be difficult in the wake of a unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in June striking down a similar Massachusetts law.

Following the Supreme Court decision, councilors repealed a 39-foot buffer zone on Congress Street that was intended to shield clinic clients from anti-abortion protesters.

“The Supreme Court did close the door pretty tightly,” Suslovic said, although the committee will take up the question again on Tuesday, Oct. 14.

Councilors unanimously approved a 99-year lease with the Diamond Cove Homeowner’s Association for access to a barge landing owned by the association. The agreement also allows construction of a new barge landing to proceed.

Agencies applying for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) the city awards from state and federal funding will no longer get any kind of bonus points in the process. Councilors unanimously approved process revisions that will also continue funding set-asides for the Community Policing and Economic Development programs.

The original order forwarded to the City Council from the CDBG Allocation Committee, with Councilor Kevin Donoghue as chairman, preserved bonus points for agencies providing child care.

The bonus points awarded for agencies meeting basic needs were eliminated, in part because nearly all 14 agencies seeking the grants this spring also sought the bonus points.

The child care bonus points were then eliminated after a motion by Suslovic.

The Anne Freeman House at 147 Congress St. was designated a landmark protected within the city historic preservation ordinance by a unanimous vote, and at the request of owners Karen Rasmussen and Manuel Pena.

The house bridges the architectural span from Greek revival to Italianate and is now on the market. It is across from the Portland Observatory and was one of the first properties owned by a woman after it became legal for women to own property in the 1840s, according to Greater Portland Landmarks Executive Director Hilary Bassett.

The two-story, four bedroom home was bought by Rasmussen and Pena in 2001, Rasmussen said, with the intent of fully restoring it before seeking landmark status.

“It was a much longer labor of love than I intended,” she said.

City Historic Preservation Manager Deb Andrews said the landmark designation does not affect adjacent properties and is relatively rare. The designation creates more oversight by the city’s Historic Preservation and Planning boards in future site plans.

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

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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.