Portland vs. Her People

By JEFF INGLIS  |  March 19, 2014

*Congress Square Plaza*
City Council creates the Congress Square Redesign Study Group. After about three years of meetings, the 15-member body was no closer to an idea than they had been at the start.
November 2011 RockBridge Capital, the new owner of the Eastland Park Hotel (now renovated and reopened as the Westin Portland Harborview) proposes buying the plaza to erect an event center (see, among other coverage, “Congress Square’s Controversial Facelift,” by Deirdre Fulton, May 24, 2013).
May 2013 The city Parks Commission says the council should consider not just the status quo and the frequently revised RockBridge proposal but other ideas “such as a re-designed park in the same space, a fully designed smaller plaza, and other building or architecture options.” (See “Getting (Congress) Square to Work,” by Jeff Inglis, August 16, 2013, and “Reimagining Portland,” by Calvin Dunwoody, August 24, 2012.)
September 6, 2013 Friends of Congress Square, which had objected to the proposed sale for months, asks the city to allow the circulation of a petition for a citizen initiative to amend the city’s land bank, making protected land harder to sell, and adding 35 parcels to the Land Bank list, including Congress Square.
September 13, 2013 The city refused to issue petitions, arguing that the ordinance it proposed conflicted with city ordinance and state law barring initiatives and referenda on administrative and financial issues.
September 16, 2013 The City Council votes 6-3 (John Anton, Kevin Donoghue, and David Marshall opposed) to sell 9500 square feet, about two-thirds of Congress Square Plaza, to RockBridge Capital for $524,000.
September 25, 2013 Friends of Congress Square Park sues the city to force it to issue the petitions.
November 2013 A judge orders the city to issue petitions, which were finally released for circulation the day before Election Day. While the city planned to appeal, the Friends collected signatures at the polls, ultimately turning in 4250, far more than the required 1500.
March 2014 The City Council approved the petition’s question for the June ballot, but also moved to enact a slightly different ordinance that would add almost exactly the same properties to the protected Land Bank (with the notable exception of Congress Square), but with more modest protections against their potential sale.
April 2014 The Maine Supreme Court will hear the city’s petition-issuing appeal in early April, and is expected to rule shortly thereafter, in time to allow or block the June election.

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