South Portland scuttles strategic land buy for future City Hall

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city is no longer interested in buying an office building that sits on a third of an acre of land next to City Hall.

City councilors spiked the idea of buying 148 Ocean St. within minutes of bringing it up at a workshop on Monday night.

Instead, city leaders said they have to concentrate on stretching the budget to free funding to maintain buildings already owned by the city.

The city manager first presented the idea of buying the office complex at 148 Ocean St. on Jan. 10.

At the time, it was presented as a strategic purchase that would give the city more land if it decides to build a new City Hall at the current 25 Cottage Road address.

Councilors conducted a site walk on Jan. 24 that revealed water damage and years of deferred maintenance at the Ocean Street property.

At Monday’s workshop, City Manager Jim Gailey recommended the city not pursue the purchase.

“The best part of this property is that it’s adjacent to City Hall,” Gailey said. “My recommendation is we not pursue it. It’s not the right time. We have other priorities than buying on speculation and being landlords.”

Councilors across the board agreed with the city manager, while thanking him for at least bringing the opportunity to their attention.

Councilor Tom Coward said the city had better immediate uses for city funding besides spending it on “nebulous long-term thoughts” about a future City Hall.

“If we had an end game in mind, it would pay for itself,” Coward said of the building’s reported profitability. “I’m just as happy to put this aside.”

Fine for food

In other business, councilors decided to donate revenue from a one-time fine imposed on a developer to the local food pantry, which has faced increased demand over the last year.

Councilors emphasized that the city would only donate this fine and is not establishing a policy.

“The Food Cupboard is a fabulous way to spend money, but I don’t want to set a precedent,” Councilor Patti Smith said.

The donation will come from a $2,000 fine being levied against South Portland resident and developer Dan LaBrie for a zoning violation.

LaBrie recently built six homes on Cumberland Road. One of the homes does not comply with setback rules.

LaBrie originally brought the violation to the city’s attention. He said he was willing pay whatever penalty the council decided upon and would not challenge the issue in court.

Although admittedly embarrassed by the violation, LaBrie said he actually looked forward to paying the fine, since it would benefit the South Portland Food Cupboard.

“I’m almost glad it happened when I heard where the money was going,” he said.

The city will also recover about $900 in legal fees associated with the violation.

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

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