By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,287)
Late this evening the City Council unanimously approved plans to create a pedestrian friendly zone – Federal Street Folly – that will provide a unique space for the public to enjoy Portland’s performing and visual arts. The idea is the creation of Jim Brady, owner of The Press Hotel, (formerly the offices of the Portland Press Herald,).
Last Monday, April 27th, the proposal was delayed one week because councilors wanted more outreach to nearby businesses on the proposal, Several business owners testified in opposition to the 200-foot section of street concerned it would hurt businesses by reducing the number of parking spaces. This past Thursday afternoon The Press Hotel hosted a meeting to present its plans to area businesses. About twenty people attended. Back in February, at a downtown merchants group, the idea was enthusiastically greeted.
Sean Ireland, an associate of Brady’s, said the proposal called for 8 – 10 events a month and could include one-act plays and similar events. The number of proponents of the park outweighed the opponents; including Harry McMann, of Systems Engineering, a nearby business owner as well as Munjoy Hill resident. Donald Tuski, president of Maine College of Art, said the park would benefit his students by giving them more exposure in the community. Councilor David Brennerman expressed the view of most of the other councilors when he said the park was a “great idea and is an experiment that can be repealed if it doesn’t work.”
An overflow crowd filled city council chambers and a nearby conference room to hear testimony on the General Assistance budget proposal. Some testified in favor of restoring the GA budget while others watched the proceedings on a television screen om a nearby conference room. The cut in the city’s General Assistance budget has been precipitated by Governor LePage’s refusal to reimburse the city for its expenses for this emergency aid program. The matter is currently in the Court system. The Council will vote on the budget on May 18th.
Councilors also approved a recommendation from the planning board to make changes to the R-6 and R-6A zones. The changes affect existing dimensional standards, reduction of parking standards and similar matters. The relaxed standards make it easier for developers to build in neighborhoods such as Munjoy Hill, Parkside, the West End, East Bayside, Bayside and Libbytown. Critics of the zoning change say that Munjoy Hill is already overcrowded with development and this will only exacerbate the situation. Councilor David Brenerman said that because of the magnitude of the changes to the neighborhoods affected, he would have prefered that a Council workshop had been held. That would have permitted some of his questions regarding the changes to be answered. He noted the large number of communications from those opposed to the zoning changes. Speaking in favor of the change were developers such as the controversial Ron Gan. Gan, a resident of the East End, did not make many friends when he tried to develop his property on Sumner Court on Munjoy Hill several years ago. In fact, a group called “Save Sumner Court” was formed and still exists. Check it out!