Portland City Council faces big decisions, state lawmakers get back to work

Posted April 22, 2013, at 12:21 p.m.
Chris Hall, CEO, Portland Regional Chamber
Courtesy Portland Regional Chamber
Chris Hall, CEO, Portland Regional Chamber

This week the City of Portland has two important choices to make about pending development proposals – we’re urging City Councilors to support growth opportunities in both cases.

Tonight the Portland City Council will vote on a Planning Board recommendation to amend the zoning height limit in Bayside to allow taller buildings as a part of the Federated ‘Midtown’ project. We urge them to support the zoning changes, and the project.

‘Midtown’ offers a unique opportunity to add almost 700 residential apartments, two garages and dozens of street level retail shops to the Bayside neighborhood. It’s a transformational project that needs to go forward.

Plans to develop Bayside have been on the books and in the works for over 10 years, but the chance to attract the necessary $38 million dollar investment to actually build phase one of something like ‘Midtown’. With the Planning Board’s expert approval of new zoning in hand, we’re hopeful that councilors will look beyond objections and vote for the zoning amendment and best interests of the City.

On Wednesday, we expect that Rockbridge Capital will appear before the City Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee to present a new proposal to incorporate a portion of Congress Square Park into the renovation of the Eastland Hotel.

Doing so allows the new Westin Hotel to include a ballroom facility that will support events and functions for the entire community, and will boost the project’s financial viability. It also upgrades land use in a spot that needs it, and creates the opportunity to make new investments in better public spaces in the area.

No vote (or public testimony) will be taken on Wednesday, but in the coming weeks the committee’s decision is important, just as the council’s choice on Bayside zoning is important. Both decisions will help define the city’s development future, and both will send a message to other potential investors in Portland.

We’ll be working to win votes in favour of these exciting new growth opportunities. If you’d like to contact Portland City Councillors and share your views, use this link and send them an email, or give them a call – right now.

Notable Read: Some days there’s just too much to read. If you only have time for one thing:

At the heart of the current state budget debate is the question: ‘Who pays for local services and local education?’ The Governor has proposed elimination of municipal revenue sharing, along with several other cuts that reduce state funding to local government. Conversation about the price of ‘local control’ and the potential for regional consolidation has grown, as have calls for higher taxes to offset these and other cuts.

Matt Stone and the staff of the BDN put together an analysis of state and local government spending, and the policy options facing state lawmakers and the Governor. Not surprisingly the debate is coming down to this – ‘who pays for K-12 education, and how much do we pay?’

As the legislative session grows shorter and the budget debate gets hotter this article is worth reading.

Spotlight Legislation: Coming back from a week off, the legislature will be pushing to complete public hearings and work sessions on hundreds of bills. Click here for the full list of committee work this week. Highlights include:

Remember, you can send an email to the appropriate committee or to your local lawmakers on any of these or other issues by using the links above and below in our Digging Deeper section.

In the State House: Not much news last week given the vacation, but laws were still being made ( BDN), and the Governor’s talk to the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce inspired Mike Tipping to write a series of blog entries ( part 1, part 2, part 3). Glenn Adams looked at upcoming legislative issues in the PPH.

State Policy round-up:

  • Bonds: The Governor’s prison bond proposal came out of committee with conditions attached ( BDN, MPBN). John Nale commented on the need for new facilities, compared to new policies.
  • Budget: The Governor’s proposal to eliminate municipal revenue sharing has divided Republican lawmakers ( MPBN). Doug Rooks discussed possible tax increases in the budget.
  • Economic Development: Clinical trials of new drugs are bigger business in Maine than we realize, producing thousands of good jobs ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). Maine’s unemployment rate was down in March ( PPH). Charles Lawton wrote about the existing efforts to encourage young people to find their place in the economy – and how we all need to do more.
  • Education: One new bill at the state house proposed mandatory all-day kindergarten for all school districts ( PPH), while another sought to include financial literacy in all high school curricula ( PPH). Virtual schools raised policy questions for lawmakers ( MPBN). Tony Brinkley and Margaret Lukins wrote in support of the ‘Bridge Year’ as a model for statewide reform. State budget cuts are making security funding harder for local districts ( PPH).
  • Energy: The Governor is seeking legislative changes for how energy efficiency dollars are spent ( BDN) – the BDN editors commented.
  • Environment: Commissioner Walt Whitcomb wrote about the work of his new agency, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
  • Health Care: Gayle A. Brazeau, Professor and Dean of the University of New England’s College of Pharmacy, wrote about the bright future of her first graduating class.
  • Labor: The minimum wage increase bill ( LD 611) will cost the state money, so it’s in limbo on the special appropriations table (the place where bills wait for funding, or death, at the end of the session) ( BDN). The Administration is considering ending Maine’s participation in a federal emergency unemployment program ( PPH).
    • While the Governor got ready to appoint a Commission to review Maine’s unemployment insurance system ( BDN), the federal government may be considering an investigation of the Governor’s meeting with UI hearing officers ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). Steve Mistler at the PPH reviewed the UI system’s performance and found it was not broken. Bill Nemitz commented.
  • Small Business: LD 1197 would allow small retail businesses with fewer than 10,000 square feet to open on holidays, expanding the existing limit of 5,000 square feet ( PPH, MPBN). A hearing last week drew lots of support.

Upcoming Event: If you’ve been thinking about export opportunities here’s a meeting you might be interested in attending:

On Thursday April 25th St. Joseph’s College’s Cross Cultural Management class will present their semester-long findings on business opportunities for local Maine companies in the developing markets of Brazil, Russia, South Africa, China, Turkey and India. Kevin Hancock, president of Hancock Lumber, will give opening remarks.

The presentation is free and open to the public. It takes place at 7 p.m. in the Viola George Auditorium, Harold Alfond Hall, at Saint Joseph’s Standish campus. For more information click here.

Around the Region: The Portland Pirates and the Cumberland County Civic Center Trustees reached agreement on a long-term lease that will serve as a keystone for the Civic Center and the surrounding community ( PPH, BDN, PDS). Southwest Airlines began service from the Portland JetPort ( Forecaster). I had the chance to discuss the future of the Chamber and the region in Mainebiz and on WGAN.

  • In Cape Elizabeth the Council set a 4/29 public hearing on next year’s combined municipal and school budget ( Forecaster).
  • In Cumberland reductions have been made in the proposed SAD 51 budget ( Forecaster).
  • In Falmouth a public hearing was held on the municipal and school budgets for next year ( Forecaster).
  • In Gorham the School Committee voted to approve the proposed school budget for next year ( Current).
  • In Portland School Superintendent Manny Caulk made more cuts to his proposed budget ( Forecaster), and a plan to use reserve funds drew concerns ( PPH). Elsewhere:
    • Eastern Maine Health Services is planning over $100 million in new investments as it merges Mercy Hospital into its system ( BDN);
    • The renovation of the Eastland Hotel is well underway ( BDN), but opposition remains ( PPH) to the new owners’ plans to expand into Congress Square ( PDS);
    • Portland’s ‘Complete Streets’ plan received national recognition ( Forecaster); and
    • For the latest check out Chris O’Neil’s Inside City Hall. Chris serves as a consultant to the Portland Community Chamber, working closely with members and staff to represent the Chamber before Portland City officials. Inside City Hall covers a host of Portland related issues. It’s something that everyone with an interest in Portland affairs will want to read.
  • In South Portland Allagash International – the valve company in South Portland – was profiled in the Forecaster. Recently named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Exporter of the Year, the company is proving that manufacturing is alive in well in our own back yard.
  • In Scarborough a Council workshop looked at additional budget cuts ( Forecaster, Current), and the Council scheduled a public vote on the school budget for 5/14 ( Forecaster).
  • In Westbrook the School Committee voted to approve the proposed school budget for next year ( Current).

Contact your local officials: Visit our website to find links to all your municipal and state house officials. Remember – if you don’t speak out, the people who represent you have no way to know what you think. So keep those email, calls and visits coming.

Digging Deeper at the State House: Most of you probably don’t want to find daily schedules at the state house, research copies of every piece of testimony submitted at every public hearing, track the status of a particular bill, find contact info for Committees, or House members, or Senators, or listen to public hearings on the computer, or watch selected state house proceedings on MPBN’s Capitol Connection. But if you do, just follow the links. The state house is increasingly accessible to the public, at least to those who put in a little work.

Back issues: Miss a Policy Update? Want to find that story or link that you lost track of? Just click here for recent back issues of Policy Update.

Feedback: What do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email to share your feedback with me – and thank you!

Partners for Progress Policy Updates from the Portland Regional Chamber are supported by generous contributions from our Partners for Progress. For more information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber just click here.

 

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