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- The Forecaster
PORTLAND — A City Council subcommittee is considering selling land in the Bayside neighborhood and purchasing another piece of land.
But city officials are being secretive about the details, refusing to disclose the location of the city-owned property.
The Community Development Committee has held closed-door meetings since September about the property.
Its most recent agenda said “The committee will go into executive session for staff to provide an update regarding negotiations for the purchase and sale of real estate pursuant to 1 M.R.S.A. 405(6)(C). Committee to provide direction to staff.”
Associate City Attorney Ann Freeman refused to disclose the location of the land, other than to say the city-owned parcel is in Bayside. She said disclosure would compromise the city’s negotiating position.
“We want to do what’s best for our own real estate,” Freeman said.
Mal Leary, president of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, said aspects of real estate negotiations are exempt from the state’s Freedom of Access Act. But the city would have to provide a compelling reason why disclosure of the location alone would compromise negotiations.
“I would argue they have to make the case that (publicly) disclosing the parcel meets the criteria in the law,” Leary said in an e-mail. “The citizens (of Portland) own the parcel, not the (city) officials.”
When pressed to explain how disclosure would affect negotiations, Freeman conceded that it was simply the city’s ongoing practice, especially when negotiations are in early stages.
A review of CDC agendas indicate the committee has met in closed session four times since September to discuss land deals.
Freeman said any of the three councilors on the CDC could make the information public.
“To open that can of worms to the public would create some controversy,” Freeman said if councilors decide not to sell the land.
Councilor John Anton declined to discuss the matter.
“Sorry, but I share staff’s point of view that disclosure would compromise the city’s negotiating position,” Anton said.
When asked to explain why that was case, Anton replied, “I am not comfortable discussing further right now.”
Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell indicated the city-owned land the committee is negotiating to sell is in Bayside. The committee is also considering purchasing a property for municipal use, he said.
Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who leads the CDC, confirmed the city was trying to sell land in Bayside, but said the parcel the city may purchase is not in that neighborhood.
Another employee in the city’s Economic Development Office said the only city-owned land for sale in Bayside are lots along Somerset Street.
According to tax records, the city owns more than a half dozen parcels on Somerset Street.
Those lots, bordered by Elm, Somerset and Franklin streets, are being sold by CBRE-The Boulos Co., which is marketing up to 3.25 acres of land owned by the Downtown Portland Corp. for $3.6 million.
The broker said the city has obtained permits and approval for a more than 700-space parking garage and a $9 million grant towards its construction.
A marketing brochure also lays out a proposed development plan for up to 375,000 square feet of office space, including five office buildings ranging from an eight-story, 120,000-square-foot building to a three-story building with a parking garage.
The properties also abut the newly established Bayside Trail.
The land is in the B-7 mixed development zone, which encourages high-density developments with assorted housing, retail, office, art studios and research and development facilities that emphasize pedestrian and public transportation designs.
Anton said the CDC did not tell staff to stop negotiating, but did not reveal when the CDC would issue a recommendation to the full City Council regarding the negotiations.
Leeman would not indicate whether the negotiations are for all of the city-owned lots.
She said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if the city may have an announcement about either the purchase or sale early next year.
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org
A Portland City Council subcommittee is negotiating to sell several city-owned lots on Somerset Street in the Bayside neighborhood.