Thursday, January 25, 2007

Press Herald

Repeal of chain limits sought

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Thursday, January 25, 2007 -->

Two new Portland city councilors are pushing to repeal controversial limits on formula businesses in downtown districts.

Councilors Kevin Donoghue and David Marshall say they support the stated purpose of the formula business ordinance, which the council approved 5-4 on Nov. 20, before the newcomers took office.

However, they believe the ordinance was developed in a flawed way, without comprehensive study or support, and that the law won't bring about the intended results.

They say they hope to overturn the limits with their two votes and support from three councilors who opposed the measure in November.

The law was developed by a community group, Keep It Real, after a Congress Street property owner said he wanted to open a Hooters restaurant, a national chain whose waitresses wear skimpy uniforms.

"The process was a sham going in and the result has been the polarization of the community," Marshall said Wednesday. "The homework wasn't done. We need to go back to square one."

Donoghue and Marshall say if the ordinance is repealed, a task force should be established to study the issue in depth and develop regulations that would bring about the goals of the ordinance.

As outlined in the ordinance, the purpose is to "regulate the number and location of formula businesses to maintain the city's unique character, the diversity and vitality of the city's commercial districts and the quality of life of Portland residents."

"I think this council can do better," Donoghue said Wednesday. "I really want to get someplace good with this."

The nine-member council is scheduled to revisit the chain business issue in a 5 p.m. workshop Monday and at a regular meeting Feb. 5.

The ordinance has been controversial from the start. Some say it's necessary to protect locally owned businesses and preserve Portland's unique seaport character. Others say it's unfair, arbitrary and based on one-sided research that neglects the benefits of having national chains in the downtown business mix.

The ordinance created two new districts. One strictly defines and limits the number of formula businesses in the Old Port and Arts District to 23, the current amount. A formula business in this district is defined as one with 10 or more identical stores or restaurants.

The other district imposes looser restrictions to prevent the clustering of chains in Bayside, the eastern waterfront neighborhood and other downtown commercial areas. A formula business in this district is defined as having 30 or more identical stores or restaurants.

On Monday, the council will consider a "sunset provision" proposed by Councilor Edward Suslovic. It would cause the formula business restrictions to expire June 30 unless the council extended them. A vote could come as early as Feb. 5.

Suslovic also wants to expand the purpose of the task force called for in the ordinance to oversee its implementation. He says it should include the study of other issues facing downtown businesses, such as parking, crime and the future of the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Donoghue said he's prepared to offer amendments to Suslovic's proposal that would cause the formula business restrictions to expire immediately and narrow the charge of the task force to fulfill the stated purpose of the ordinance. Marshall said exactly what steps will be taken to repeal the ordinance remain unclear.

Councilors who voted against the ordinance were Suslovic, Cheryl Leeman, James Cohen and William Gorham, whom Donoghue replaced in December as a result of the November election.
Councilors who supported the ordinance were Donna Carr, James Cloutier, Jill Duson, Nicholas Mavodones Jr., who is mayor, and Karen Geraghty, whom David Marshall replaced in the recent election.

Cloutier, Duson and Carr say they will continue to support the ordinance. Other councilors could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Donoghue sits on the council's three-member community development committee, which has been reviewing Suslovic's proposal and developing recommendations before Monday's workshop.

Donoghue said he voted against recommending Suslovic's proposal earlier this month, along with fellow committee members Duson and Cloutier, because he opposes broader goals for the task force.

Portland Works, a group of business owners and taxpayers who oppose the formula business ordinance, continue to gather signatures for a possible citywide referendum on the issue, spokesman Mark Robinson said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

View District Two: A Work in Progress in a larger map