Portland council puts measure aimed at Fore St. project on Nov. ballot

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PORTLAND — A referendum question designed to limit development at the Portland Co. complex could be costly and emotional.

The manner in which it was added to the Nov. 3 ballot by city councilors on Monday night guaranteed it will be a long, expensive read for voters.

Councilors unanimously added the citizen initiative drafted by members of Save the Soul of Portland to the ballot. But councilors declined to immediately enact it or create a competing measure for voters to consider.

On Election Day, voters will get to read the entire ordinance on the city ballot, a move City Clerk Katherine Jones said is unprecedented, require a third ballot page, and cost an extra $10,000.

Voters will be asked to approve amendments to the city land use code that will require use of a floodplain measurement when determining building heights at the Fore Street complex owned by developers CPB2.

The amendments will also create a task force to evaluate scenic views throughout the city to see which may fit into a new scenic protection zone, to be patterned after the overlay on a portion of the 10 acres owned by CPB2.

Finally, the amendments will require developers seeking a zoning change to provide more details about potential use of the new zone.

The referendum question will also contain the third iteration of a summary, with language drafted by Councilor Jon Hinck in an effort to ensure it neither promotes nor opposes the question.

Councilor Ed Suslovic had also proposed a new summary before moving to have the ordinance printed on the ballot with no summary at all. City Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta warned the lack of a summary could lead to litigation, because that would violate a citizen initiative ordinance passed in the 1950s.

The original summary, which was part of the citizen initiative petition drive that gained about 2,600 signatures – 1,100 more than needed to forward the measure – was amended during discussions between West-Chuhta and members of Save the Soul of Portland.

“I think everybody had looked at it and no issues were flagged,” West-Chuhta said of the original summary, but eventually, the first and fourth paragraphs were removed before the order went to councilors on Monday.

During a 70-minute public hearing on the ordinance, supporters and opponents sounded familiar arguments about how the measure would protect city residents from a City Council too willing to let developers have their way with projects, or whether a small, vocal group is determined to stop economic development in the city.

“It is my belief the citizens will not endorse your decision to degrade the view of Portland,” Machigonne Street resident Donna Williams said. “We still have a vibrant and heterogeneous Main Street, let’s keep it that way.”

CPB2 was granted two zoning changes on June 1 to redevelop the property that was once the site of workshops, a foundry and a grain elevator owned by the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railroad.

The changes allow construction based on the average grade of the 10 acres, which could lead to construction of buildings rising 35 feet above Fore Street.

CPB2 principal Jim Brady said the development will be governed by a complex set of regulations that include “view corridors” to preserve sight lines from streets intersecting Fore Street as it ascends toward the Eastern Promenade.

“I think it is fair to say this would be the most restrictive zone in the state that can be developed,” he said. “We want to create a vibrant new neighborhood.”

Save the Soul of Portland member Ned Chester, who lives across Fore Street from the property, bristled at the accusation that his opposition is simply a personal matter.

“The developer and its surrogates seem bent on making this personal,” he said. “This development will not block my view, whatever they build over there. I’m concerned about this view because I know it intimately.”

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

Sidebar Elements

CPB2 principal Jim Brady outside the Portland Co. complex at 58 Fore St. in Portland on May 29. A referendum question affecting how the property can be redeveloped will be on the Nov. 3 city ballot.

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.