Monday, July 28, 2008

PRESS HERALD

Group wonders if waterfront is working

Developers invite wharf owners to discuss whether more non-marine revenue is needed for pier repairs.

By JOHN RICHARDSON, Staff Writer July 28, 2008

A small group of developers is hoping to organize the city's wharf owners in support of more commercial activity on the Portland waterfront.

The Portland Waterfront Preservation Coalition, as the group is called, has invited the central waterfront pier owners to an introductory meeting Tuesday. The organizers include Ronald Ward and Robert Baldacci, both of whom were part of the Ocean Properties team that lost its bid to develop the Maine State Pier, and David Cohan, a former city employee who is now working as a development consultant with Baldacci.

The organizers are not pitching any specific developments or changes in the city's restrictive waterfront zoning and said it will be up to the property owners to decide whether to move forward and approach the city. But, they said, allowing "appropriate and rational development" in the city's core waterfront will pay for expensive maintenance and repairs of the city's aging piers.

"We do feel like this is the right time to take a real hard look at this," said Baldacci, brother of Gov. John Baldacci. "We're not suggesting it's time to put a wall of condos on the waterfront. It's about preserving the waterfront and preserving the working waterfront."

When Ocean Properties lost out on the Maine State Pier, Baldacci said that partnership would continue to look at other opportunities on the waterfront. But he said Friday that the coalition initiative is not related to any development plans.

"We don't have any agenda or any specific projects in mind at this time," he said. "We see the need."

The embryonic coalition is already generating curiosity, and some skepticism.

David Marshall, a Portland city councilor, said the group's new name – and its use of the word "preservation" – doesn't disguise its interests.

"If it looks a like a development team and it sounds like a development team, it's still a development team," Marshall said.

He said the city's waterfront debate is alive and healthy despite a zoning update two years ago that maintained a balance of uses. "The great thing about the central waterfront zone is it is mixed-use," with offices as well as fishing boats and processors, he said.

Waterfront development has been a touchy issue in Portland for decades. A 1993 referendum imposed restrictive zoning to protect the fishing industry and other marine businesses that rely on access to the water. Changes two years ago provided slightly more flexibility for pier owners who wanted more commercial opportunities.

In general, pier owners must reserve the first floor of buildings for marine-related uses, while upper floors can be for more lucrative non-marine uses such as professional offices.

Cohan, a Peaks Islander who managed waterfront properties for the city until about four years ago, said the coalition's initiative grew out of conversations about the crumbling state of the city's piers and the need for more revenue to pay for repairs.

"Coming in from Peaks Island, you can see that many of the piers have concrete barriers so that cars and people can't walk out to the end because they are not safe," he said. "If people just say, 'We like our waterfront the way it is,' 10 years from now it's not going to be the way it is."

Commercial development such as restaurants or coffee shops could help maintain the piers for fishermen to use, he said.

"If you assume you have to allow for some additional use on the piers to bring in revenue, the question is, what is the appropriate level to keep the integrity of the wharf," he said.

Kenneth MacGowan, owner of Custom House Wharf, said he relies on revenues from the non-marine tenants to maintain his wharf, parts of which were recently closed by the city because of structural problems.

"I've invested close to $200,000 in the last six months or so. Piers are an expensive thing," he said.

MacGowan said he planned to go to the meeting Tuesday to hear about the coalition's plans, but that he doesn't necessarily want zoning opened up for more development or non-marine uses. He's more upset that the city gave itself an advantage by allowing extensive commercial development on the publicly owned Maine State Pier and not on privately owned piers.

Charlie Poole, owner of Union Wharf, said he recently spent $10,000 just to replace five pilings at the pier. "I'm the first one to say those buildings need to work all the time if we're going to have a working waterfront. It's the upper floors that are subsidizing the" berths for the fishing industry, he said.

Poole said he's curious and will likely attend the meeting Tuesday. "If somebody's got an idea, it's important to listen to it," he said.

But, Poole said, the port's Waterfront Alliance, of which he's a member, has already been advising the city on development, zoning and working waterfront issues for more than 20 years. It helped develop the changes two years ago.

"We're all scratching our heads," he said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

Monday, July 21, 2008

City of Portland

Volunteer Opportunities

Board and Commissions

Board of Appeals – 3 positions

Responsibilities: Assists in the administration of the City’s Zoning ordinance by reviewing decisions of the Building Inspector, approving conditional uses and granting variances. The Board functions in a quasi-judicial capacity and members must be able to hold public hearings, make findings of fact and conclusions of law based upon applicable state and local zoning laws, and issue written decisions setting forth their findings and conclusions.

Board of Assessment Review – 2 positions

Responsibilities: The Board has power to grant property tax abatements pursuant to state law and to determine the tax exempt status of real and personal property. It functions in a quasi- judicial capacity and members must be able to hold public hearings, make findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with state law, and issue written decisions setting forth their findings and conclusions.

Qualifications: Members need the background necessary to be able to determine the value of real and personal property. Members should be familiar with the several geographical areas of the City, e.g. the waterfront, downtown, Munjoy Hill, Deering, etc.

Civil Service Commission – 2 positions

The Employment Subcommittee has three Commissioners and one alternate. The Employment Subcommittee approves written examinations for police and fire Civil Service testing and other elements of the testing process such as fitness and medical and job suitability exams, participates in oral interviews with candidates, and may hold hearings on discipline cases.

Qualifications: A resident of Portland and a person of good moral character. Although a familiarity with employment practices and the legal process would be helpful, they are not required. What is necessary is a desire to be involved in a critical but background role, a capacity for objective judgments, and good communication skills.

Disqualifications: Anyone who is or has been a City employee or City Councilor or anyone who is a relative of a present member of the Police or Fire departments.

Downtown Portland Corporation – 6 positions

Responsibilities: Institute economic development programs in the Portland area to insure compliance to City’s goals, objectives and requirements. Review loan and underwriting applications for financing programs.

Qualifications: Some or all of the following experience is required: commercial financing, small business operations, commercial real estate, marketing, and have an interest or be active in economic development. Residency in Portland not required.

Fair Hearing Officer – 2 positions

Responsibilities: Review any dissatisfaction stemming from any action concerning applicants for general assistance. Decisions must be in accordance with applicable State Laws and City Ordinances. The Fair Hearing Officer is required to render a written decision regarding the outcome of a hearing within five working days.

Qualifications: Ability to conduct hearings with a five-day notice.

Ability to be fair, impartial, unbiased, and have no personal or financial interest, direct or indirect, in the hearing or its outcome. The Fair Hearing Officer is scheduled to attend hearings on an as-needed basis.

Friends of the Parks – 2 positions

This Commission serves as an advisory group to help promote parks and recreation in the City. Meets monthly with Director of Public Services / Parks and Open Space Manager to review projects, proposals and receive citizen input to provide recommendations to the Director of Public Services and the City Council.

Harbor Commission – 1 position

Responsibilities: Reviews construction plans. Protects the rights of harbor users.

Qualifications: Familiarity with Portland Harbor and Casco Bay and an interest in its growth. Capacity to become familiar with issues such as vessel access rights; coastal zone management conflicts and other aspects of marine law and marine engineering. Fair and objective reasoning skills. Good communication skills.

Historic Preservation – 2 positions

Responsibilities: The Historic Preservation Board has jurisdiction to review and approve applications for a Certificate of Appropriateness for exterior alterations, site improvements and new construction affecting Portland’s designated landmarks, buildings and sites within historic districts and historic landscape districts. The Board also makes recommendations to the Planning Board and City Council concerning amendments to the historic preservation ordinance and the designation of additional landmarks, historic districts, and historic landscape districts.

Qualifications: Members shall have demonstrated interest, knowledge, ability, experience, or expertise in restoration, rehabilitation, or neighborhood conservation or revitalization and shall be residents of the City of Portland.

Terms: Members are appointed for terms of 3 years and may serve a maximum of three consecutive terms.

Meetings: The Historic Preservation Board meets on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month at 5:00.

Landbank – 2 positions

The Land Bank Commission is responsible for identifying and protecting open space resources within the City of Portland. The Commission seeks to preserve a balance between development and conservation of open space important for wildlife, ecological, environmental, scenic or outdoor recreational values. The Commission responsibilities include: working for the acquisition and conservation of open space within the City; recommending to the City Council on a priority basis acquisition or conservation of significant properties; and the pursuit of gifts and funds from private and public sources for the acquisition of open space as approved by the City Council. The Commission has developed an inventory of open space resources within the City. It is engaged in an ongoing effort to proactively protect properties from development through easement, deed restriction, or acquisition.

Responsibilities: Pursue funding resources for the acquisition of open space; create an inventory of

open space property in the city and make recommendations for the protection and/or acquisition of open space that is environmentally significant.

Meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 5:00 P.M.


Portland Fish Exchange A – 2 position

Portland Fish Exchange B – 1 position

Portland Fish Exchange C – 1 position

Additional information is available in the City Clerk’s office, on the City’s website at www.portlandmaine.gov or at 874-8677. Deadline for submission is August 1, 2008. Please send a resume and cover letter to Appointments Committee Chairman, c/o Linda C. Cohen, City Clerk, 389 Congress Street, Portland ME 04101 or lcc@portlandmaine.gov. Applicants will be contacted for interviews.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

PRESS HERALD

Proposal would delay closing polling places

Two Portland councilors also want to form a citizen advisory committee to explore the issue.

By KELLEY BOUCHARD, Staff Writer July 18, 2008

Portland officials will consider delaying a controversial plan to reduce the number of polling places from 16 to six after more than 1,500 voters signed a petition against the change.

City Councilors James Cohen and David Marshall said Thursday that they will offer a proposal to the council on Monday that calls for keeping 16 polling places through the November presidential election.

They also want to establish a citizen advisory committee to recommend how polling places could be reduced in the future, while at the same time preserving voter access and keeping an equal number of polling sites in each district.

Cohen and Marshall hope the council will agree to put their proposal on the November ballot. It would compete with a referendum sought by Save Our Neighborhood Polling Places, the group that circulated the petition to block the reduction.

"We need to have a more thorough discussion of the issue and allow the voters to have a say in how we can continue to provide equity and access in our polling places," Marshall said.

The council approved a municipal budget in May that called for reducing the number of polling places to six, in part to save $12,000 to $15,000 per election.

Opponents of the plan say it will reduce voters' access, increase lines at the polls and discourage some people from voting, especially low-income voters who don't have cars.

They're particularly concerned about the effect on voter turnout in November's presidential election.

On Monday, the council is expected to schedule an Aug. 18 public hearing on a proposed ordinance, sought by citizen petition, that would require the city to keep 16 polling places for all state and federal elections.

Under the ordinance, the council would be able to consolidate polling places only for local elections when voter turnout is expected to be unusually small. The council can either approve the ordinance as written or send it to referendum in November.

Cohen and Marshall said there are good reasons why some reduction in the number of polling places is necessary. The number of people voting by absentee ballot is growing, poll workers are increasingly difficult to hire and the city has no money to spare in a budget that eliminated 93 municipal jobs this year.

Opponents of the planned reduction said they're glad Cohen and Marshall are taking action, especially regarding the presidential election.

"They're hearing what the people of Portland are saying and they're responding," said Ben Chipman, an organizer of Save Our Neighborhood Polling Places.

Chipman said he believes the city should keep 16 polling places, but he would be open to having a minimum of two polling places in each mainland district if that was the recommendation of the advisory committee.

Controversy over the reduction plan surfaced late in this year's budget deliberations.

Under the plan, each of the city's five voting districts on the mainland would have one polling place. Now, districts 1 and 2 have two polling places each; districts 3, 4 and 5 have three each.

The plan kept a polling place on Peaks Island but eliminated polling places on Cliff and Great Diamond islands, to save about $2,500 per election. Councilors Marshall and Kevin Donoghue led an effort to keep polling places on Cliff and Great Diamond, but it failed.

Ultimately, the council unanimously approved a $185 million budget that included the poll-reduction plan.

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

kbouchard@pressherald.com
PRESS HERALD

Cohen won't seek third term on council

Known for his leadership on the finance panel, he plans to focus on his law practice and family.

By KELLEY BOUCHARD, Staff Writer July 18, 2008

Portland City Councilor James Cohen, who led the council's effort to grapple with troubled school finances over the past two years, said Thursday that he won't seek a third term in November.

Cohen said he plans to refocus his priorities on his law practice and his family. His wife, Joan, is seeking the District 113 seat in the Maine House of Representatives.

"It's the right decision for my family at this time," said Cohen, who has two boys, ages 8 and 12. "I'm certainly going to miss working with the city and on behalf of my constituents. I want to stay active in the community, but I want to pick my spots."

Now in his sixth year on the council, Cohen has been chairman of the finance committee for two years. In that role, he pressed school officials to provide more detailed information during annual budget reviews, especially after a $2 million deficit came to light last year.

The school superintendent and finance director resigned last summer.

This year, he oversaw preparation of a city budget for fiscal 2009 that eliminated 93 municipal jobs in anticipation of cost increases and revenue shortfalls in the coming months.

"His leadership on the finance committee has been invaluable," said Councilor David Marshall, a finance committee member. "We agree on some things and disagree on others, but he always gives me my chance to participate, and when the issue's over, he moves on."

Marshall described Cohen as professional and thoughtful and lauded his efforts to promote economic development through creative industries and forward-thinking environmental and transportation policies.

Cohen, who is a partner with Verrill Dana in Portland, said he plans to expand his practice as a utilities lobbyist and government-relations specialist to include community mediation. He received a certificate in mediation in March from the University of Southern Maine.

John Coyne, who has been chairman of the Portland School Committee for two years and is up for re-election in November, said Thursday that he plans to run for Cohen's District 5 seat on the council. Coyne, of Saugus Street, and Naomi Mermin, of Madeline Street, have taken out nomination papers to run for the seat.

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

kbouchard@pressherald.com

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

PRESS HERALD

Editorials

Transportation planning grows more challenging

The Maine Turnpike Authority and other transportation officials have to rethink plans.

July 17, 2008

Economists call it "rationality," and they often puzzle over instances when it doesn't work as expected, but the theory appears spot on when it comes to driving habits and the price of gas.

Which is to say that people are reacting to higher fuel costs exactly as one might expect: They're driving less.

That's good in the sense that it will temper future increases in fuel costs and mean less pollution from vehicle exhaust, but for state transportation officials, it spells trouble.

The impact of changing habits can be easily seen when it comes to the Maine Turnpike, where data on traffic volumes is readily available. But what's playing out for the Maine Turnpike Authority is also affecting the state Department of Transportation.

Turnpike traffic was down more than 4 percent last month, year-over-year, and it's down 1.27 percent for the year. That's a big change. The turnpike and the authority that runs it has been built on the assumption that demand for its services would steadily increase.

But with falling traffic comes falling toll revenue, about $546,000 less for this year over last and well below the 2.5 percent increase that had been projected. That, of course, means some belt-tightening for the authority this year, but as Executive Director Paul Violette is well aware, the trend has long-term implications for transportation planning.

"We have a shift in the paradigm here," he says. That shift could translate directly into putting off turnpike expansion projects, something Violette says his board will be discussing in coming months.

Already, a widening of the turnpike north of the I-295 interchange has been delayed from 2010 to 2015, and Violette says that project and others could be further delayed if fuel prices stay high and people drive less. "Some of the things we've been looking at could get pushed beyond our 10-year planning window," he says.

It is, no doubt, difficult to plan with energy markets in flux and sweeping policy initiatives dominating the national debate. But taking a second look at plans is exactly what the turnpike authority should be doing.

The same holds true for the DOT and Augusta lawmakers. A fall-off in gas-tax revenues means tight road budgets.

The tricky part is that no matter how many cars are on the road, the snow still has to be cleared and old bridges need to be replaced and roads repaved. Look for transportation planning to be a major challenge in Augusta in 2009.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Low Interest Loans for Energy Efficiency Upgrades Available

$325,000 available through City of Portland's Division of Housing & Neighborhood Services for qualifying homes

PORTLAND, Maine - The City of Portland announces the availability of low interest loans for Portland home owners for energy efficient renovations. The Owner-Occupied Residential Rehabilitation Program offers loans of up to $15,000 to be paid over a period of up to twenty years. Interest rates range from zero to three percent and can be forgiven in certain circumstances. Income eligibility ranges from $38,200 for an individual to $54,550 for a family of four.

"During such difficult economic times, this program is an excellent way for homeowners to pay for energy efficient upgrades they might think they would be unable to afford otherwise," stated Councilor Dave Marshall.

"With fuel costs doubled in just a year, people really need to find ways to reduce their use of heating oil. Replacing an out-of-date inefficient furnace or adding insulation in the attic could help reign in those costs and those energy savings could be a lifesaver for a family struggling to keep their home. People need to know that there is a program in the city that can help them," concluded Marshall.

The federally funded program encourages renovations designed to make a single-family home more energy efficient such as window replacement, insulation, sealing air leaks, and repair or replacement of inefficient heating systems. To help homeowners access the loan program, the city's Housing & Neighborhood Services Division now has a state-certified residential energy auditor on staff.

"As the city's energy auditor, I am able in a matter of hours, to assess the situation in a home and make some very cost-effective suggestions on ways to reduce energy consumption and save the family money," stated Roger Hutchins, Housing Rehabilitation Specialist. "This service is free and available to any qualifying resident interested in the loan program.

Loan applicants can also receive help from the city's Housing & Neighborhood Services Division in locating a contractor, preparing any paperwork necessary for the loan, and managing the construction. The Program requires correcting any building or safety code violations that may need to be fixed in the home.

For more information visit the city's website at http://www.portlandmaine.gov/planning/housing.asp or call Mary Davis at 874-8698.

###

--
David A. Marshall

City Council, District 2

City of Portland, Maine

207.409.6617

damarshall@portlandmaine.gov

www.portlandmaine.gov




Fine Arist

Pine Street Studios

www.DAMFineArt.com

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