Portland rejects attempt to block sale of Congress Square Plaza

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PORTLAND — The city has denied an attempt by the Friends of Congress Square Park to create a citizens’ initiative that would protect the plaza by revising a municipal ordinance.

On Sept. 6, the group submitted a petition to amend the city code by placing the plaza at Congress and High streets – along with 34 other publicly owned properties – in the city’s Land Bank, which protects designated open spaces that have environmental or recreational values.

The amendment would also have expanded the types of property protected by the Land Bank to include “urban open public spaces,” and would have required any sale of the properties to receive an affirmative vote by eight city councilors, or six councilors and approval in a citywide referendum.

The Friends are a neighborhood group that has been trying to block the proposed sale of about two-thirds of the plaza to owners of the former Eastland Park Hotel, who plan to use the space for an adjacent event center. The group announced the citizens’ initiative in an Aug. 28 press release.

But the city’s corporation counsel has determined that the Friends cannot use the citizens’ initiative process because the amendment conflicts with city law, City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said in a press release Friday afternoon.

Citizens’ initiatives apply only to legislative matters, not administrative functions, Clegg said. And the City Charter places all decisions regarding “fiscal, prudential and municipal affairs of the city of Portland” exclusively in the hands of the City Council.

The council heard public comment on the proposed sale earlier this week, and is expected to take action on it at a meeting on Monday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.