South Portland still wrestling with how to create affordable housing

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors continue to grapple over whether to introduce an inclusionary zoning ordinance to promote affordable housing, or let the market take care of itself.

During a 4 1/2-hour workshop and meeting July 10, councilors discussed an affordable housing ordinance and retail marijuana measures. They also voted to join the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda and designate two new safe zones in the city.

Inclusionary zoning

The inclusionary housing amendment, modeled after the one in Portland, would require new housing projects of 20 or more units to set aside 10 percent of the units as affordable. Alternately, developers would have to pay $100,000 per unit to a city fund set aside for affordable housing.

The amendment would be retroactive to Feb. 27, when the City Council held its first workshop on the issue, and would cover proposed housing developments at Sable Oaks and on Clark’s Pond Parkway.

A first reading was held June 5, but councilors thought the issue needed more work.

Councilor Linda Cohen on Monday said she is not convinced inclusionary zoning will work.

“Nobody has proven it to me that it works,” Cohen said. “If it was voluntary I think I could support it. I’d rather let enterprise and capitalism and the private market just do its thing, and supply and demand.”

Councilor Sue Henderson said she also believes in capitalism, but she believes there are limits to the market’s reliability.

“The free market does not care about the vulnerable,” Henderson said.

Councilor Even Rose also said markets have limits in what they can deliver.

He said capitalism works in a “regulated environment and ultimately when it comes to land use, if the market is left to its own course, a few people will own all the land. This is the oldest economic arrangement there is … this is feudalism.”

Rose said he believes housing is “a human right,” but he “realizes our society isn’t at that place now.”

Rose and other councilors expressed concern about density bonuses that could be offered to developers in the new ordinance if it passes.

“I would like to see a little more rigor on how we look at density,” he said.

Cohen said the council is already seeing pushback in the community on the density issue.

“I’m not sure density bonuses are a great thing to be offering, at least from the neighbors’ perspective, because it is going to add to traffic,” Cohen said.

Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser called the amendment a “basic affordable housing tool.”

Haeuser warned councilors that the issue is time sensitive because developers want to know if and when it is going to happen so they can prepare.

“Let’s decide whether or not we want to do it,” Haeuser said.


Councilors continued hashing over the particulars about potential retail marijuana licensing and zoning following a moratorium that was extended May 15. The council is working toward a final draft to send to the Planning Board for review and a public hearing.

During Monday’s workshop, councilors discussed whether performance standards should be required for retail marijuana cultivation as a home occupation; regulating the hours of operation for retail marijuana businesses; whether a maximum of 10,000 square feet is acceptable for cultivation; whether setbacks from sensitive areas including schools and places of worship should be set at 300 feet, and if retail stores should be at least 300 feet apart.

“I think everyone is working in earnest,” Mayor Patti Smith said. “We are trying to do our best in unknown territory.”

Councilor Claude Morgan said the city must honor the narrow passage of a statewide referendum last November that legalized sale and use of recreational marijuana.

“Change is coming,” Morgan said. “This is the brave new world, like it or lump it. … It is our obligation to put forth language that reflects what the vote was.”

Safe zones, climate

In its meeting, the council voted unanimously to make Sawyer Park and Ridgeland Heights safe zones, which provide stiffer penalties for anyone caught dealing drugs within 1,000 feet.

“We have to take some kind of action to protect our children,” Councilor Maxine Beecher said.

South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins told the council that signs will be installed to inform people of the new designation.

Councilors also voted unanimously to join about 300 other cities across the country in support of the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda.

The resolve pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a manner consistent with the goals outlined in the Paris Climate Accord.

 Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.