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SOUTH PORTLAND — Councilors last week showed support for proposed amendments to Knightville zoning developed by the city’s Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee.
The council is also considering changes to its standing rules, as recommended by City Manager Scott Morelli, that include eliminating council workshops and instead starting meetings a half hour earlier to accomodate workshop issues.
Council meetings typically are held every Tuesday, but because of the Dec. 11 special election, last week’s workshop was delayed until Dec. 13 to allow the election winner, Deqa Dhalac, to be seated.
Planning Director Tex Haeuser said the amendments, which would impact the neighborhood’s Village Residential and Village Commercial zones, could result in “slightly” more dense residential neighborhoods flanking Ocean Street, but primarily aim to protect residents from the construction of large commercial buildings on their property lines.
The proposal will now go to the Planning Board Jan. 23 for a public hearing. It will then come back to the council for a first reading.
Amendments include allowing a minimum of two residential units per lot and then another unit for each additional 10th of an acre, as well as reducing the minimum lot size from 7,500 to 2,500 square feet.
Among various amendments proposed for the Village Commercial zone is one that would require any building or portion of a building within 50 feet of the residential zone be no taller than 40 feet – the residential zone’s limit – rather than current 50-foot limit.
Another amendment would add live-work units as an allowed first-floor use, and an additional change would add a maximum total building footprint of 10,500 square feet per property to discourage large new developments, according to Haeuser.
“I very much support the idea of greater density in their neighborhood,” Councilor Kate Lewis said.
But Lewis said she had concerns over maintaining the area’s neighborhood feel, cautioning against walled-off decks on each level of a development or homes being built with only an entrance through a garage, rather than a front door, which she said can frequently be found on Munjoy Hill in Portland. This, Lewis said, would change the streetscape and “remove a level of interaction in the neighborhood.”
Mayor Claude Morgan agreed, saying he lives in a converted fire station that can only be entered through the garage, which, he said, deters people from approaching his house.
Haeuser said the committee could meet again to address these concerns.
Still, councilors said they were ready to move forward.
Lewis commended the committee for producing one of the most “thoughtfully constructed” plans she’s seen for a neighborhood.
Morgan said he was “very impressed with this process. I don’t know how you got so many people to come to a consensus. … I know you met a lot and these are not easy topics.”
“It really feels grassroots,” Councilor Misha Pride added. “I don’t like top-down tinkering with something that had so many residents thinking about and approving it.”
Included in Morelli’s recommended rule changes was a proposal that would eliminate workshops, typically held the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. Regular business meetings, during which the council votes on various items, are held the first and third.
Instead, the council would hold four business meetings a month, during which an agenda item called Workshop Discussion would be included.
Morelli said the change would avoid agenda overload, where items now compete for time during the two workshop sessions held each month. The consolidation of meetings would also allow councilors to introduce an item for a workshop and have it considered as soon as the next meeting.
Morgan said the split workshop idea “scares” him because he’s “averse to change,” but said he would “roll with it.”
Morelli said starting meetings at 6:30 rather than 7 p.m. would have eliminated seven meetings that went later than 10 p.m. and three that went later than midnight over the last year.
Some councilors said they prefer a 7 p.m. start time because it gives them time to get home after work to see their families and have dinner, but noted that they’d make 6:30 p.m. work if it was the will of the rest of the panel.
Morelli said he’d also recommend eliminating the first citizen discussion portion of each meeting.
“Any member of the public is still able to address the council at each meeting, doubling the number of times and amount of time that they can do so, from two to four and from 10 minutes to 20 minutes, respectively,” Morelli said in a memo to the council.
Further, general comments would be limited to items that are not on the agenda. The council allows the public to comment on nearly every agenda item as it is heard, so Morelli said “it is duplicative if someone is allowed to comment twice on a subject.”
Councilors said they recognized the need for the change, but also said there should be at least one meeting per month where the citizen discussion portion is at the start of the meeting so speakers don’t have to sit through the entire meeting to speak after councilors have already taken an action.
Councilors will discuss Morelli’s recommendations further in a Dec. 27 workshop.
Deqa Dhalac, left, who was elected Dec. 11 to the South Portland City Council representing District 5, is sworn into office by City Clerk Emily Scully on Dec. 13.