South Portland bans tobacco at public beaches, parks

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors on Wednesday unanimously approved a ban on the use of tobacco products at or within 25 feet of the city’s public beaches, parks and recreation facilities. 

The ordinance was crafted and promoted, with the help of Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis, by members of South Portland High School Interact Club, who were present at the meeting in Council Chambers.

The law, which will take effect on July 26, received preliminary approval on June 20.

Councilors amended the original ordinance on Wednesday to make clear that the smoking ban will not apply to residential property that falls within the 25-foot buffer zone around city property. 

Another amendment, by Councilor Tom Blake, would have removed the buffer from the ordinance entirely, but it was defeated.

“I’m thrilled for these areas to be smoke free,” De Angelis said in an interview after the meeting. “It is noticeably different when you cross the Maine border and get into the fresh Maine air. This makes South Portland a model for even cleaner air.”

De Angelis also praised the students for getting involved in their civic project.

“On some levels, that’s really the greatest benefit” of this whole process, she said. “The outgrowth of this is leadership from these students, I think that’s what we should applaud.”

The ordinance gives police the ability to enforce the tobacco ban. At their discretion, they can issue warnings, education or fines. The fine schedule steps up from $100 for the first offense to $250 the second and $500 for each subsequent offense. 

De Angelis said the city will work with Healthy Maine Partners, which helped the Interact students, to create signs for the areas affected by the ordinance. 

Councilors on Wednesday also extended a tax increment financing agreement with National Semiconductor. The move is calculated to facilitate growth at the plant after the company is acquired by Texas Instruments in a pending $6.5 billion deal.

The city and the company have had a TIF agreement for more than a decade, which reimburses National Semiconductor for half its property taxes. Under the one-year extension, the company would be reimbursed for 40 percent of its city property taxes. The remaining 60 percent would go into the city’s general fund. 

Representatives from National Semiconductor have said the TIF will position the manufacturer for post-acquisition capital investments that could result in more jobs at the plant.

In other business, the council approved a zoning extension that clears the way for the South Portland Housing Authority to erect a 44-unit affordable-housing complex for seniors. 

Citing growing demand for affordable senior housing, the SPHA sought to extend the zone created for it’s Ridgeland Estates property that allows greater residential density.

The new project would be built on a now-vacant piece of land behind Ridgland Estates, with road access from Ridgeland and Huntress avenues. 

The council also awarded a $53,000 bid to Leslie T. Fossell Restoration Resources of Alna to restore the exterior of the former Hutchins School on Mosher Street. The building is currently leased by the city to Mad Horse Theater.

The work will restore the 1873 Italianate structure, rehabilitating the exterior woodwork and repairing the soffits and fascias as needed. In addition, an “inappropriately place” handicapped-access ramp will be removed. 

The work will be paid for by funds from a Community Development Block Grant.

Like the old Maine National Guard armory, the former Hutchins School may be eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, according to City Manager Jim Gailey. 

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow Mario on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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