South Portland council cautious about Jetport zone change

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council gave initial approval to zone changes that would allow the Portland International Jetport to expand its runways and build an aircraft de-icing pad.

But rather than simply forwarding the proposal to the next business meeting, the request will be discussed at next week’s workshop, where councilors promised a thorough review. 

The jetport is looking to change its South Portland property from rural farm land to light industrial, while also adding several aviation-specific uses. Airport officials hope to fast-track the zone change so it can receive $2.5 million in stimulus funds to build a de-icing facility that would capture propylene glycol as it runs off airplanes. 

Paul Bradbury said the de-icing pad is required by the Environmental Protection Agency by 2010. “Stimulus money is speeding this up,” he said. 

Councilor Linda Boudreau, however, said she is concerned about rushing the zone change. 

“There’s a pile of questions the council needs to ask about this,” Boudreau said.

Many of those questions appear to revolve around other projects contained in the jetport’s five-year plan, rather than the de-icing facility.

Those plans call for expanding the runways, among other things, and Boudreau said she is concerned about the impact that would have on residents in the Brickhill area and other neighborhoods that already complain about airport and highway noise. 

Mayor Tom Blake said he is concerned about the environmental impacts of the expansion, a concern that was brought up at the Planning Board before it unanimously issued a positive recommendation to the council. “We need to make sure we do this right,” he said. 

The jetport owns about 411 acres of land in South Portland, but only 32 acres are zoned light industrial. Meanwhile, the revenue-generating portion of the airport, the airline terminals, are in Portland. 

Executing the jetport’s five-year capital plan would require filling about 11.6 acres of wetland in the Long Creek watershed. Long Creek is currently classified as an urban impaired stream and landowners are exploring creative ways to meet federal mandates to clean up the watershed. 

The Planning Board’s positive recommendation came after members ensured that the proposed projects would come under a site plan review, where environmental and other concerns could be vetted and addressed.

Boudreau, however, found little comfort in that arrangement, noting the board could only evaluate the proposals in light of the ordinance that is ultimately approved by the council.

“This is truly a decision about quality of life and land use in the city,” she said. “It is one of our weightier decisions.”

Shoreland, storm water rules

Meanwhile, the council unanimously approved comprehensive updates to portions of the zoning ordinance that govern floodplain, shoreland and storm-water management. 

While many of the changes are state mandates, there are a few policy changes included in the rewrite, including a reduction in the amount of parking spaces required for commercial developments. 

The initial draft ordinance would have reduced that requirement from five spaces per 1,000 square feet to four. However, the council amended that portion of the code to require the Planning Board to issue a special waiver to reduce parking.

The council is scheduled to take final action on the changes at its April 22 meeting. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or