South Portland seeks feedback on Comp Plan vision

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The process of updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan hit a milestone this week with the release of a draft vision statement intended to guide the more substantive conversations to come about planning the city’s future.

The city posted the draft vision statement on its website on Wednesday, along with a 15-question survey.

Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser said the city hopes to collect feedback over the next month or so.

“We are really going to be interested in people’s reaction to the vision statement,” Haeuser said.

That feedback, he said, would be considered as the 15-member planning committee, which includes residents, business owners, city staff and board representatives, pours through hundreds of documents and data over the next year or so.

Haeuser said the plan is essentially a road map to the city’s future and will, among other things, guide zoning and land-use regulations.

While the vision statement is a declaration of where the city wants to be in 2035, it begins by saying the city has changed since the existing Comp Plan was enacted about 25 years ago.

“Many of the places and things we now identify as being special about the community didn’t exist or were very different 25 years ago,” it says.

The statement indicates the city is desirable because it is a waterfront destination that has safe, walkable, urban neighborhoods. It touts itself as an education community, not only for children, but also for adult learners.

South Portland is also a green community, the statement says, for its parks and open spaces, as well as ongoing efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, develop alternative energy sources and green building techniques, while encouraging high-density, mixed-use developments.

The vision says the city’s diversity of income, age, ethnicity and economics is a strength, and identifies South Portland as a waterfront community, both for its working waterfront and as a recreation destination.

Haeuser said the plan will address issues ranging from city services, facilities and transportation to economic development and the environment.

Councilor Maxine Beecher, who leads the committee, said the statement was crafted largely by input from at a community forum that attracted more than 100 residents at Southern Maine Community College in June.

During that forum, residents were asked to identify things they liked and didn’t like , Beecher said.

Areas of dislike, she said, included traffic congestion, the condition of school facilities and oil tanks, and people wanted more walking trails and better bus routes.

Meanwhile, people liked the many neighborhoods, the Mill Creek area, SMCC, open spaces and access to the waterfront, she said.

“It was really about that neighborhood feel for the people who live here,” Beecher said. “I think sometimes we tend to forget about that.”

The committee is also seeking feedback from residents and other interested parties via e-mail and public comment at meetings, Beecher said.

She said the committee heard a historical presentation on neighborhoods by South Portland Historical Society Executive Director Kathy DiPhilippo, who also led the group on a bus tour. 

Beecher said important areas identified so far for improvement include Rigby Yard, Mahoney Middle School and the former shipyards near Bug Light Park. There has also been a desire to encourage more mixed-use development, especially in the Maine Mall area.

Haeuser said it will take at least a year to complete a draft plan. Once a final version is adopted, it will be sent to the Maine State Planning Office, so it can be certified, which will open the door for more grant opportunities and require the state to abide by the local rules, he said.

All documents being used by the committee are available via links on the city website.

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

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