South Portland easement will preserve open space in Thornton Heights

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors began the process Monday night of establishing a formal open space policy.

In addition to presenting a list of more than 250 potential parcels for preservation, City Manager Jim Gailey proposed the city grant an easement to the South Portland Land Trust that would protect property at 25 Westbrook St.

The trust will work closely with Congregation Bet Ha’am, which abuts the land.

Debate about a year ago over what to do with the 2.3-acre parcel in Thornton Heights spurred the realization that the city needs an open space philosophy, Councilor Tom Blake said at the July 13 workshop.

“It seems kind of ironic,” Mayor Linda Cohen said. “We’ve ended up back where we were a few years ago anyway, (which) was not developing this property.”

Conditions of the easement require the undeveloped green space to “remain in a substantially undeveloped, open state, recognizing its scenic, aesthetic value in providing the general public access for quiet recreation and, potentially, community gardens and a playground.”

The property is currently being used as a lay-down yard for construction in the area, Gailey said Monday. That will remain its temporary use through next year.

Lisa Munderback, past president of Congregation Bet Ha’am, said the synagogue supports the easement because it will remain “a tranquil green space for the western part of the city.”

Councilor Patti Smith also spoke in favor of the easement, citing the importance to “blend our city with the built environment and the unbuilt environment. We can only imagine what it can be. I think when you have the opportunity to imagine, then you have a place.”

Smith also said she thinks the process shouldn’t stop at a conservation easement. The city should also designate open space zones and establish permitted uses within those zones.

The rough draft of remaining parcels suitable for some sort of easement was only examined in part by councilors.

Gailey identified 22 that are most threatened, including Mill Creek Park and Bug Light Park.

Councilors will continue their discussion in a July 27 workshop.  

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

Sidebar Elements

South Portland school tax bite to decline

SOUTH PORTLAND — The city will receive $6 million in state General Purpose Aid to Education, approximately $884,000 more than what was anticipated. 

Half of the allocation will likely provide tax relief, City Manager Jim Gailey said Thursday. The other half will go into reserve accounts.

Allocating $480,000 for tax relief will effectively reduce the school portion of the city tax rate from 3.5 percent to 2.25 percent, according to Rafe Forland, School Department finance director.

The City Council and School Board discussed the allocation Wednesday night in a workshop session. The council will accept the funds and vote on the allocation on Monday, July 20.

— Alex Acquisto

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.