South Portland council gives initial OK to plan to boost land bank

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday gave preliminary approval to a plan to increase funding for the city’s land bank, which is used to buy and maintain open space.

Councilors also voted to make Thomas Street near City Hall one way in preparation for a new transit hub and bus routes that take effect in late August.

The increased funding for the land bank, which needs final approval at the next council meeting, would come from the sale of city-owned land.

Sixty percent of sales from undeveloped parcels and 30 percent of developed parcels would be earmarked for the land bank. Currently, only 5 percent of sales feed the account, which has a balance of about $20,000.

The new rules also call for an annual contribution of $30,000 from the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, unless the fund exceeds $1 million.

The unanimous vote to increase funding came after several contentious meetings on the subject, where councilors disagreed over the contribution requirements and the threshold for waiving rules to either increase or decrease deposits.

Mayor Tom Coward said the new funding mechanism represents a “sea change” and applauded a compromise that allows flexibility in the ordinance.

“This shows we’re serious about putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to open space,” Coward said.

The new rules will likely be in place when the sale of 85 Western Ave. is completed. A group of investors are also eying the former National Guard Armory on Broadway.

Councilor Linda Boudreau was among councilors who advocated flexibility in the ordinance, because future councils may have different priorities.

She used the city’s need for a new public works facility as an example, arguing that proceeds from any potential sale of the O’Neil Street site should be used to pay for a new facility. 

“While I’m not happy with the percentages, the waiver is in fact critical for me,” Boudreau said.

The waiver, however, will ultimately open up the council to more lobbying from residents.

“It will be up to the public to hold future councils’ feet to the fire,” Coward said. “As it should be.”

Thomas Street

Starting in late August, vehicles will only be able to travel on Thomas Street from Cottage Road to Ocean Street.

Councilors unanimously voted to restrict the street to one-way traffic in preparation for a new Thomas Street transit hub that will be serviced by new bus routes.

While the transit hub will not be completed until next summer, Transportation Director Tom Meyers said temporary bus shelters will be erected to serve the new routes by Aug. 23.

The city’s Route 3 crosstown bus will be eliminated, but passengers will still be able to get to most of those stops by transferring for free at the new transit hub, which will be a single-story building with bike racks, benches, lighting and safety and security cameras.

The Route 1 Willard Square bus will be renumbered as Route 21 and make a single, counterclockwise loop, heading out Ocean Street and Sawyer Street and returning to the hub via Broadway. 

The segment of road from Highland Avenue and Cottage Road from Sawyer to Ocean street will no longer receive service.

Meanwhile, the Route 4 Maine Mall bus will be renumber as Route 24A and 24B. The only services eliminated are a once-a-day trip to Sunset Park and Maine Mall Road between Gorham Road and Philbrook Avenue.

Service to Stanwood Park will also be eliminated, but customers may walk to Evans Street to catch the bus.

For more information on the new routes, visit the city’s website or contact the Transportation Department at 767-5556.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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City Council to study options for South Portland City Hall

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday, July 26, will discuss options for a new City Hall during a workshop at the Community Center.

Mayor Tom Coward directed the city manager to post information that will be discussed at the workshop on the city’s website as soon as possible, so residents can be prepared for the meeting.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in this particular issue,” Coward said. “I think we will get more than the usual number of people wanting to know what your presentation is like before you make it.”

Residents have questioned whether the council should be spending its time considering options for a new City Hall when other major projects, like renovating the high school and Public Works, have been deemed higher priorities.

Officials began looking at options for a new City Hall after a developer offered to sell the city 100 Waterman Drive, a four-story office building overlooking the Fore River that has been vacant since it was built in 2008.

Although the council conducted a walk-through of the 32,000 square-foot, energy-efficient building in May, officials have not discussed a price with Andrew Ingalls, the real estate broker who spearheaded the development.

But Ingalls said in an interview that he would sell the building for the construction and carrying costs, $4.8 million.

The council on Monday will also consider converting Mahoney Middle School at the corner of Broadway and Ocean Street into a new City Hall. That plan, originally estimated to cost $4.4 million, could only move forward if the School Department consolidates middle schools, a process being studied for next year.

Building a new City Hall behind the existing facility is also an option. Construction costs were originally projected to be $5.8 million.

The current City Hall at 25 Cottage Road dates back to 1898. A 2009 facilities assessment indicated the walls are “full of mold and mildew,” the floors have asbestos tiles and the roof leaks.

Although Monday’s meeting materials were not available by Thursday morning, July 22, Gailey said his presentation would include ballpark estimates for costs like purchasing a building, construction, utilities and moving.

Gailey said he will also outline any possible disruption of services during a move, as well as continuing costs and possible savings over 10 years.

The workshop will start at 6:30 p.m.

— Randy Billings

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