District 1 City Meeting: Updates from 2016 and Plans for 2017

On November 16, 2016, city officials held a public meeting at East End School to provide updates to District 1 residents and take public comment and questions. The meeting was run by District 1 City Councilor Belinda Ray, District 5 City Councilor David Brenerman, City Manager Jon Jennings, Island/Neighborhood Administrator Mike Murray and Mayor Ethan Strimling among other city officials. 

Councilor Ray began by providing an update on the survey sent to residents and property owners gauging the level of public support for the implementation of a time limit parking program between Sheridan Street and Atlantic Street, and between Congress Street and Fore Street. The permit parking would limit street parking in those area to two hour increments from 9 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. Councilor Ray advised that there was only a 20% response rate and of those responses, slightly more than half were opposed to the proposed permit parking, so it will not be implemented at this time.

She also discussed complaints from residents about the noise from the waterfront concerts on the pier. She said that the city has met with the waterfront concert promoter, who was not aware of the concerns about the noise, and that they are working with the promoter to develop strategies to mitigate the noise for the coming season. 

Councilor Ray also addressed concerns over the proposed Sheridan Street development in front of Fort Sumner Park. Although the developer has not presented a formal proposal to the city, the original design concept was to build 1.5 stories above the park plaza of Fort Sumner Park, significantly altering the view from the park. There is nothing in the current zoning to prohibit the project. Councilor Ray proposed a temporary moratorium on development proposals in the R6 zone of the Portland Peninsula that abut public parks. Her proposal is that the moratorium stay in effective through February 6, in order to allow time for city staff to craft language to ensure that there are protections in place in cases where developments impact public parks. Possible ideas include having the parks commission serve in an advisory role for the planning board when a project abuts a public park. 

City Manager Jennings, who has been the City Manager for the past year and a half, complimented Councilor Ray on her work as a City Councilor as well as the city of Portland for having a thoroughly engaged citizenry. He explained that the budget focuses largely on infrastructure improvements and he is particularly excited about the city improvements from a technological standpoint. Jennings responded to concerns about street lighting in the city and explained that the city is exploring the possibility of changing to LED street lighting.  He also explained that projects such as developing a high speed fiber network throughout the city would incentivize economic development. Public comment was made that the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization has completed a sidewalk study of the Munjoy Hill neighborhood, prioritizing areas most in need of improvement, and would be happy to share the study with the city. 

Residents voiced concerns that the city fine for not shoveling sidewalks is not being implemented. City officials explained that a resident is reported for not clearing their sidewalk, they notify the said resident of the requirement. If the resident still fails to clear their sidewalk, the city then removes the snow and charges the resident for the cost of he snow removal. City officials also advised that the city has added 6 new sidewalk plows for the coming year to help with snow removal.

City officials explained that they are working to make the permitting process more streamlined with the creation of a new department responsible for permitting and inspection. They are working on implementing fast track permit processing for certain types of permits so that the turnaround time would be less than 48 hours. This would replace the prior fast track process, which was ineffective, as the technological platform had not been updated since the 1980s. In the future, residents will be able to submit an application for a permit online and will receive the permit via email.  All city staff also received training on customer service, which was led by the former head of customer experience for LL Bean.

Concerns were raised from the public about the rate and scale of development on Munjoy Hill, with 19th century houses being torn down to build modern high-end condos. Multiple residents commented on specific concerns about the Portland Company development regarding traffic, density and building height. One resident commented that they wished that the developer had been open to working with the neighborhood to find a solution to fit everyone’s needs, such as extending the current street level view by putting a park on top of the buildings. Another resident commented that they did not understand why the Western Prom has R4 zoning and the Eastern Prom has R6 zoning. Concerns were also raised over the change in parking requirements and elimination of set backs that resulted from the change to R6 zoning. Multiple residents commented on the need for affordable housing in the city, especially on Munjoy Hill. Residents also emphasized the distinction between market rate housing and affordable workforce housing. City officials explained that in 2017, there would be an examination of the city’s land use code to encourage appropriate housing across every neighborhood in Portland. City officials will evaluate the impact of the R6 zoning in District 1 over the coming year.

One resident raised concerns over the city’s use of TIF financing, commenting that the intent of a TIF is to incentivize developing a neighborhood that would not otherwise be developed. The resident commented that they feel that tax money is being diverted for private interests. City officials commented that TIFs encourage businesses to move, to or stay in, Portland and that TIFs allow for increased value sharing on revenue, with a portion of the return on investment being used for infrastructure investment.

Residents also voiced concerns about the closure of the India Street clinic and the concentration of homeless population in the Bayside neighborhood. Public comment was made about the need for the city to expand services for homeless and those dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues throughout the city. Comments were also made that the city should invest more in the Metro system. One resident commended the city for the recent infrastructure improvements in the Bayside neighborhood. 

Another resident raised concerns over the sewage treatment plant’s lack of air quality monitoring, as well as real time communication about odor reporting. Safety concerns were raised about the need to traffic calming at the intersection of Fox St., Walnut St. and Washington Ave. Another resident expressed concerns over the mayor’s actions to renovate his office and hire an assistant, which previous mayors did not have. Mayor Strimling explained that it was the recommendation of the previous and current City Manager that the mayor have an assistant to help out with workload, and work with constituents and also to help the city council develop policy.

Additional concerns over the wellbeing of immigrant and asylum seekers in the city and the possibility of deportation. City officials reported that they have not seen a surge in hate crimes as some other cities have. They also confirmed that the Portland police deal with state laws and are not proactively asking people their immigration status. City officials said that the city is committed to working to ensure that all members of the community feel safe and comfortable.  

As 2016 comes to a close and 2017 begins, we should thank city officials for all of the work that they do each and every day on our behalf for the city of Portland. Although there will be many challenges in 2017, including developing innovative strategies to meet affordable housing needs and evaluating the impact of the R6 zoning in District 1, it is clear that city officials are working hard to make improvements to public infrastructure and customer service so that all residents feel valued and safe.