Several times recently, Portland’s Housing Replacement Ordinance (HRO) and the fees that it authorizes have stirred controversy at City Hall. Last month a property owner was told that he must pay $150,000 to the City in exchange for a permit to demolish his derelict building (formerly B&B Cleaners at the base of Munjoy Hill). The rationale for the fee is that three apartments will be removed from the City’s housing stock. At $50,000 per removed unit, the City seeks to collect $150,000 for a fund that can be used to subsidize “affordable” housing projects. The property owner objects to the fee, asserting that the three apartments have not been used for housing in decades. He further argues that the HRO fee prevents him from being able to reinvest in a viable replacement building on the site – perhaps office and retail. He will likely litigate, and has indicated that he wanted to replace the building, but because of this fee he can only afford to maintain the property as a surface parking lot. Is that the property’s highest and best use for the owner? For the City?
The HRO has also caused community concern recently in the Roxanne Quimby, YWCA, Sportsman’s Grill, and Portland Hall projects.
The ordinance, enacted on the heels of the 1990’s boom, was intended to ensure a stock of affordable housing. Economists and urban planners traditionally maintain that a city cannot thrive unless it has this crucial piece of the puzzle: adequate housing stock for low-income workers. Some people say there is no housing shortage here, and market forces should determine housing values/costs, as well as how an owner uses a property. Many maintain that the HRO acts as a strong deterrent to would-be development. Others consider it an illegal impact fee.
The community has invested much to develop a viable downtown since the Maine Mall was built. Proliferation of subsidized housing projects is certainly “development” but there is disagreement whether it is desirable development. Meanwhile 800 affordable housing units have been added in Portland since 2002. While some lament the reduction in property that has commercial potential, others would assert that it is good to achieve increased residential density, greater viability for transit, street-safety after dark, housing for artists, and a downtown population base that sustains an urban merchant’s row.
Is there a broad view? A balance? A strategy? One landowner told me this is a major land-use poison pill for Portland’s economy, and asked me if it is the City’s plan to wake up one day to discover that “the peninsula has become one big Kennedy Park?”
The Chamber's policy Committee - Economic and City Affairs - is planning to make the HRO the subject of its December 16 Lunch & Learn. At Lunch & Learn we break bread while we examine a current issue in depth. You are invited to the forum, which is a moderated-panel discussion. Pros and cons are sought, and we devote a considerable part of the program to Q&A / discussion with attendees. The desired result is understanding. Click here to reserve your spot.
Elected Mayor – Making Progress
The Charter Commission has been meeting twice monthly. They hope to wrap up in July, 2010, with the goal of sending charter revisions to the voters in November, 2010, when Maine will elect its next governor. While anything is on the table, they are devoting their time largely to the topic of a popularly-elected mayor with a multi-year term of office. In case you missed it, they are reaching broader agreement on sending a mayor-manager model to voters for approval. The model that they are now (exhaustively) discussing is very similar to the model that the Chamber proposed in May of this year. It would preserve professional management of the City, but allow for a city-wide articulation and prioritization of issues – via a mayoral campaign and election.
The Chamber led the call for a Charter Commission. Our thinking has been laid out in our Fall 2008 Voter Guide, and in our Spring, 2009 Task Force Report which examines the “elected mayor” issue. Every ten years, after the Census, government re-draws the lines for voting districts - from City Council to Legislative to Congressional. The last “reapportionment” occurred in 2003 and gave us new districts in the 2004 elections. If Portland voters approve the charter revisions, they will likely be voting for mayor in 2014, unless the Charter Commission can devise a way to do it sooner.
Snow is Coming. Subscribe to Parking Ban Announcements
Be the first to know when a snow ban is or (or off). Save your clients and employees the hassle of the hook. Sign up here and the City will notify you all winter.
Or Just Leave the Car at Home
Ever wish you could get to work a greener way, but it just seemed too complicated, so you still drive alone (and a touch guilt-ridden) every day? No excuse now. An “all-in-one” map and timetable featuring public transportation options throughout the Greater Portland area is now available here. Post it at your place of employment.
The guide provides route maps and time schedules for Greater Portland Transit District (METRO), Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Transit (ShuttleBus/ZOOM), South Portland Bus Service and the Downeaster. Information is also included for Casco Bay Lines, Regional Transportation Program (RTP) and York County Community Action. I also commend you to the Go-Maine website to see how easy and convenient it can be to reduce parking demand, save money, even text or apply mascara on the way to work!
Or Just Ditch the Car Altogether
Ever consider how much it costs to own a car? U-Car has four new vehicles parked on Portland Streets, available for short term rental. Rates for U Car start at $9.50 per hour or $66 per day. These rates include gas, 125 free miles and insurance. Once approved, a U Car member has access to reserve vehicles any time of the day. Members bring their U Car Share card to the vehicle and swipe in. The doors will unlock and allow the member to use the vehicle for the full reservation period. Upon returning the vehicle, the member will be charged for the time used. As demand rises for U-Car, City officials hope to expand the fleet. Post this one at work too.
Know your City Councilors?
In which Council District are you located? Click here to see the map. Want to get in touch with Councilors to thank them, invite them to your business, or provide input? Find out here how to get in touch with them.
Wondering when that Planning Board or City Council meeting is? What’s on an agenda? Check out the City’s calendar.
Ask The City
The City Manager has launched an online service called eContact. It allows citizens quick and easy access to information and specific information requests. Check it out Here.
Want to get involved in Portland? The City maintains a website that allows you and your co-workers to peruse volunteer opportunities from “Adopt-a-Catch Basin” to “Ushering at Merrill Auditorium.” Please post at work as appropriate.