South Portland City Council kills stipulation, incentives for affordable housing

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SOUTH PORTLAND  The City Council rejected a zoning ordinance that could have brought more affordable housing to the city, but approved a measure that could give more protection to renters.

During its Aug. 21 meeting, the council also formally adopted the West End Master Plan and unanimously approved establishing two ad hoc committees – a Senior Citizen Advisory Committee and an Open Space Committee.

The inclusionary zoning ordinance, which needed five votes to pass, failed 4-2, with Councilors Claude Morgan and Linda Cohen opposed. Brad Fox was absent from the meeting.

The ordinance would have required new housing projects of 20 or more units to set aside 10 percent of the units as affordable for middle-income residents. Alternately, developers could pay $100,000 per unit to a city fund set aside for affordable housing.

Modeled after a similar law in Portland, incentives for developers would have included density bonuses and fee reductions for building more than the required percentage of affordable homes.

The idea was first discussed in a city workshop in February. A first reading was held June 5, when councilors sent it back to a workshop, followed by a second first reading July 17, when the proposal passed unanimously.

Neither Morgan or Cohen explained why they voted against the ordinance.

Morgan voted for the ordinance in the first reading, where he said he may need some extra “sweeteners” or “carrots” for developers to get his vote at a final reading. Cohen was absent during the first reading.

Councilor Eben Rose, who voted for the ordinance Monday, called it a “fresh approach” along a “long and winding road.”

“It is not a perfect piece and a perfect solution for our housing woes,” Rose said. “I don’t see it as a real burden or restraining the market. … It gives us another tool in our toolbox.”

Mayor Patti Smith said before the vote that housing is a human right and “Doing nothing sometimes also sends a message of doing nothing.”

The Housing Security Ordinance ordinance, which passed a first reading Aug. 8, spells out discrimination policies, extends the notice tenants must receive for rent increases from 45 to 75 days, and creates an education program for tenants and landlords.

It prohibits landlords from denying housing to tenants on the basis of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, family status, ancestry, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, or receipt of public assistance.

“We are not doing anything dramatic here with the exception of changing (rent increases) from 45 days to 75 days, which I do not believe is an onerous burden on the landlord,” Morgan said. “This is not going to address housing shortages and problems of economic distress in our community, but what it will do is it will be a clarifying moment and it will add to the conversation between consenting parties.”

The ordinance passed 5-1, with Cohen opposed.

Cohen, who said she likes some aspects of the ordinance, such as the education component, said she didn’t want the city to have a set of rules for tenants in place that differs from those in surrounding communities.

“I think that there are state laws in place that protect renters and to the extent that we want to change those, I would like to see us working together as a region,” Cohen said. “I still don’t like the idea of South Portland having one set of standards and then someone moves out of South Portland and they move to another community, expecting they have those same rights and then they don’t.”

West End

Councilors unanimously adopted the West End Master Plan that was first presented during an Aug. 14 workshop.

Adopting the master plan does not mean the city will be making all the recommended changes. Zoning changes would be necessary to enact some of the recommendations.

The plan calls for making the West End a safer and easier place to walk, bike and drive by improving roads, building sidewalks and crosswalks, and better byways for bicyclists.

Councilors also approved bids for updates to the Redbank Community Center to include bleacher replacement, repairs to the floor, paint, and other upgrades to the gymnasium, as well as kitchen repairs and upgrades, roof repairs and sealant on outside walls.

In other business, councilors established two ad hoc committees:

• The Open Space Committee will oversee creation of an Open Space Strategic Plan. The plan will need council approval and will eventually be incorporated into the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

• The Senior Citizen Advisory Committee will conduct a needs assessment for residents, identify programs in place for seniors, identify gaps between needs and available services, and determine partnerships and options that would help meet the needs of seniors. It will also develop a strategy to communicate programs available for seniors.

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.