Portland council to return to pot, housing questions

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PORTLAND — Monday, Nov. 21, will be the last time the current City Council meets.

It could also be one of the council’s longest meetings, with moratoriums on marijuana sales and development on Munjoy Hill, and zoning amendments that will affect housing all expected to be on the agenda.

The 5 p.m. meeting will be the last before new Councilors Pious Ali and Brian Batson are sworn into office on Dec. 5, replacing Councilors Jon Hinck and Ed Suslovic.

The unfinished business slated for Nov. 21 public hearings and council votes are the result of two postponements to keep the Nov. 7 meeting short, and the unsuccessful attempt that night to pass the moratorium on marijuana sales as an emergency measure.

Councilor Jill Duson, who leads the Housing Committee established by Mayor Ethan Strimling almost a year ago, requested the Nov. 21 hearing and vote on five items to regulate the city’s rental market at the Oct. 17 meeting.

“I see it as the basic set of things we have to move forward,” Duson said Monday about requiring increased notification time for rent increases from 45 to 75 days for tenants and for tenants and landlords to sign a document explaining at-will tenancies without a lease.

Also in the amendments are the establishment of a landlord/tenant commission to review the state of city rental housing, the creation of a leaflet explaining landlord and tenant rights to be given to all tenants, and the inclusion of language from the Maine Human Rights Act banning the discrimination of sources of income by landlords.

Strimling said Monday he will add more to the regulations.

“I’d like to see a more full package; it is a step for sure,” he said of what is already in front of the council.

Strimling will not seek to eliminate at-will rental arrangements as he had proposed in August.

“I don’t think there is much we can do there,” he said Monday, noting city Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta has advised that requiring leases for all rentals could conflict with state law and cause litigation.

Strimling said he still supports the “leeway” program proposed by Councilor Spencer Thibodeau that would require landlords to give 90 days’ notice of termination for at-will tenancies or paying up to $1,000 to the tenant being required to move.

The mayor also wants to ensure people holding housing vouchers are not turned away by landlords.

The moratorium on licensing marijuana sales and social clubs for its use drew council support when proposed by Suslovic and Councilor Belinda Ray, but not as an emergency measure passed without more public comment.

Written in response to state referendum Question 1, which supports legalization of up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana for sale and use by adults 21 and over, the moratorium is similar to others considered or passed in the state; South Portland councilors discussed a six-month moratorium in a Monday workshop, and Cumberland town councilors Monday enacted a two-month moratorium.

Question 1 was approved by voters Nov. 8, but may face a recount.

Councilor Justin Costa said the prospect of a retailer getting a license to sell marijuana that the city could not later amend as it sets up its own rules was too slim to require an emergency.

“We have clearly caused confusion in the public with this,” he said of the introduction of the moratorium as a non-agenda item.

David Boyer, who led the legalization campaign, supported local control of marijuana sales, but had also objected to passing the moratorium as an emergency the day before the election.

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

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.