July 18, 2018
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Portland voters reject bid to allow neighborhoods to control zoning

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A ship passes under the Casco Bay Bridge in Portland on Tuesday behind the site of proposed cold storage facility.
By Jake Bleiberg, BDN Staff
Updated:

PORTLAND, Maine — Voters in Maine’s largest city on Tuesday rejected a citizens initiative that aimed to empower neighborhood residents to override City Council-approved zoning changes.

Question 2 failed with nearly 53 percent of Portlanders voting against it, according to the city’s final, unofficial results. The measure’s approval might have imperiled two major proposed developments: a new refrigerated storage facility on the western waterfront and a large housing subdivision near Stroudwater River.

The measure was born out of some residents’ frustration with what they see as the city’s disregard for local objections to large construction proposals. It’s the latest manifestation of growing pains that have racked Portland as the city’s development has spiked rents, changed the fabric of neighborhoods and increasingly urbanized the coastal community.

The proposed measure would have let a small number of people living in the immediate vicinity of a zone change negate decisions reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals and voted on by the City Council.

Portland state Rep. Heather Sanborn, who led opposition to the measure, said Tuesday that she was “relieved” it had failed and was surprised by the relatively close vote.

“We have work to do to make the planning process more transparent, and more participatory, and more public,” said Sanborn. “But Question 2 was not the answer.”

Prior to the vote, opponents of Question 2 suggested that it might violate Maine law and hinted at a court challenge if voters approved it.

Under the measure, locals could block zoning changes by gathering signatures from 25 percent of registered voters who live within 500 feet of the address in question. The person who applied for the zone change could, in turn, override this by gathering supportive signatures from 51 percent of voters living within 1,000 feet of the area.

Portlanders had been preparing to leverage the proposed measure to try to block controversial developments.

In the spring and early fall, residents of Portland’s West End and Stroudwater neighborhoods filed signatures with the city that they claim are sufficient under the ordinance to override two zone changes approved over the past year. The changes make possible construction of a cold storage facility on Commercial Street and a 95-home subdivision on 45 acres of what was once farmland on outer Westbrook Street.

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