South Portland sets long-term strategy to guide Mill Creek changes

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City Councilors unanimously adopted the Mill Creek Master Plan Monday night, culminating several years of work on a comprehensive plan to rejuvenate the neighborhood.

But the 114-page document is just a navigational tool until the council identifies ways to implement zoning changes and fiscal incentives to attract new business, Councilor Patti Smith said at the July 6 meeting. 

“This is really about strategy. This plan is an excellent strategy piece. Tactics come next,” Smith said. 

The essential purpose of the plan is to bring new life to the neighborhood by transforming it into a “more traditional downtown” with a “distinct identity” that includes a “mix of commercial, residential, governmental and cultural uses,” according to the plan. 

It includes directives in three primary areas: public investments, revising current zoning, and how to work with residents and developers. 

Fulfillment of the plan will depend on collaboration between the city and private investors, developers and property owners, said Mark Eyerman of Planning Decisions, the city’s consultant.

The final product approved by councilors also included some revisions as a result of public comment over the last few months. 

Those adjustments included an assurance that the city would try to work with the state Department of Transportation, for example, to improve traffic flow around the intersection of Ge Erskine Drive and the Casco Bay Bridge approach.

Other recommendations leave room for future affordable housing measures to be included with the development of new housing, a revision that was prompted by a concern voiced by resident Chris Kessler.

The revision by the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee is that projects of more than 20 “dwelling units incorporate some units that are affordable to moderate-income households.”

Councilors also expressed a desire to provide incentives for developers to create “green infrastructure.”

“When it comes down to it, everyone wants to do the good thing, (but) sometimes it’s a matter of money,” she said.

It was also acknowledged that implementation of the plan will be a long and ongoing process. 

“This is very much a long-term view of what we want to happen in this part of our city,” Councilor Melissa Linscott said.  

The intention isn’t to bring in any type of new development to increase the tax base, but to approve development that councilors believe will benefit the city. “Without this kind of a plan to look forward to the future, we will have no control when a developer comes along,” Linscott said. 

Very often councilors are only involved in the “here and now,” Mayor Linda Cohen said. “There’s an old expression that you can’t see the forest for the trees. This plan takes us beyond the trees.”

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

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.