By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,715)
The City of Portland’s decision to approve the Midtown project was appealed by a group of residents, as well as an abutting commercial property owner. Their appeal is based on seven counts, which generally fall into three main categorizes: (1) that the project is not consistent with the City’s Land Use Ordinance; (2) that the project is not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan; and (3) that the process violated the Maine Freedom of Access Act according to a statement released by the city this afternoon.
The following provides information regarding the City’s response to these claims:
Response to Concerns Regarding Consistency with the Land Use Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan: The City of Portland is still evaluating the appeal, but took every care to ensure that the project review was compliant with the City’s Land Use Ordinance and comprehensive Plan. In fact, changes were made to the project as part of the review to ensure that compatibility. Some of those changes include reconfiguration of Somerset Street to address flooding concerns as well as urban design issues raised by the current elevation; additional space for the Bayside Trail at the Elm Street end through pulling back a building; and changes to the Bayside Trail side of the building. The design of the buildings and site plan improved considerably during the review process.
Response to Concerns Regarding Open Meeting Law and the Freedom of Access Act (FOAA): The City of Portland is committed to compliance with the Freedom of Access Act and takes issues of open meeting law and public access seriously. While not required to do so, we generally post all materials for a project on the City’s web site for public review the Friday before each Tuesday meeting. We also created a special web page for this project to ensure public access to critical information. In addition, the Planning Board encourages public comment at each workshop and hearing, rather than just at the official public hearing for a project.
The appellants clam that the City “keeps no written records of its meetings, nor does the Planning Board televise or video record at its meetings.” This is not accurate. Staff keeps a written record of each Planning Board meeting and on the next meeting’s agenda, lists all actions, taken, which the Planning Board then announces publicly. The appellant’s attorney has been provided all notes and the minutes from each of the meetings in question.
Although not required to do so, the Planning Board also generally videotapes all meetings. However, unknown to staff of the Planning Board, there had been an issue with the videotaping machine in their meeting room. We discovered that in late 2013 and early 2014 not all the video recordings had been archived. There is a request in the City’s budget for new recording machine to resolve this problem. However, it should be noted that the videotape was never viewed as a substitute for the written record of meetings, and again, the videotape is not specifically required under state law.
The City will have no further comment on this matter given pending legal proceedings.