PORTLAND, Maine — City councilors are preparing to put an ordinance designed to protect city parks on a fast track to enactment by April 14.
Elements of the ordinance were discussed at a council workshop Monday night, and the full text is expected to be discussed at a March 24 council workshop that will also involve members of the Parks Commission and possibly the grassroots Friends of Congress Square Park.
If the ordinance passes a second council vote April 14, it would take effect 30 days later — almost a month before a more restrictive citizen’s initiative goes to a referendum on June 10.
The referendum — forced by petitions circulated by the Friends group, among others — came in part as a protest to the council’s September decision to sell two-thirds of the publicly owned Congress Square Park to private hotel developers for about $524,000.
The council measure to protect parks and open spaces would revise Chapter 18 of the city code, which specifically addresses parks, recreation and public buildings. The citizen’s initiative would amend Chapter 2, which deals with administration, specifically the city Land Bank.
The council ordinance will likely be accompanied by a zoning change for public squares, switching them from business development zones to recreation and open space zones.
The zoning change was suggested by Councilor Kevin Donoghue.
“I see the greatest need for protection in your urban squares,” he said. “It certainly sends a message about what our policy is in those areas.”
The zoning change would affect areas including Bramhall Square at Congress and Bramhall streets, Longfellow Square at State and Congress streets, and the remainder of Congress Square Park not sold to RockBridge Capital for additional development of the Westin Harborside Hotel.
City Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta said the zoning text will be taken up by City Planning Director Jeff Levine and can move forward on a parallel track with the park ordinance. It would also require Planning Board consideration.
Mayor Michael Brennan supported quick action on the city ordinance. The April 14 meeting will be called as a special meeting and will be the last City Council meeting for the month.
Brennan had supported moving the city park ordinance to a workshop next Monday, but the schedule would not allow enough chance for input from Parks Commission members, according to West-Chuhta and Director of Public Services Mike Bobinsky.
The referendum question proposed by petitioners would add 35 properties, including Congress Square Park, to the land bank that was established in 1999. It would also require eight councilors to approve the outright sale of any land bank parcel, although a sale could be approved by a public vote if it is first approved by six councilors.
The preliminary city ordinance would require seven councilors to approve a sale, a threshold supported by Councilor Nick Mavodones, who said he would also like to see an advisory opinion from the seven-member Parks Commission before any sale is approved.