Monday, July 18, 2011


Housing developer seeks different shade of green for Portland-funded project
By Randy Billings

Jul 12, 2011 12:00 am

PORTLAND — Avesta Housing wants the city to waive a requirement for energy efficiency certification at the Mirada Adams School property on Munjoy Hill.

If granted, the waiver would be third under the ordinance, which was adopted two years ago.

The frequency of waivers has prompted a review of the policy.

Avesta plans to build 16 townhouse condominiums at the site of the former school at 48 Moody St. The school building has been demolished and development plans are scheduled for Planning Board review next month.

Development Officer Seth Parker said the nonprofit, affordable housing agency is seeking the waiver to reign in the costs of each condo. The units will be sold, not rented, which makes it more difficult to absorb the costs, he said.

"Adams is sort of a different model for us, being a for-sale condominium," Parker said. "It's a really tight budget, and we're really trying to preserve the affordability of those units up there the best we can given the market conditions."

Parker estimated it would cost about $47,000 for consultants, reporting and registration fees to certify the Adams School project under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, as required by the city.

That would add about $3,000 to the cost of each condo, Parker said.

The ordinance requires LEED certification for construction projects that receive more than $25,000 in city funding. The Adams School project has received $1.71 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding.

Avesta formally submitted its waiver request last week to Planning and Urban Development Director Penny St. Louis, who is responsible for administrative waivers.

When reached on vacation Monday, St. Louis said she hasn't had a chance to review the request. But she expects to make a decision soon after she returns.

Waivers may be granted when projects negatively impact a historic building, or when certification would be cost prohibitive.

City Councilor David Marshall said he is disappointed that the certification requirement may be waived.

"I guess the waiver has become more of the rule rather than the exception," Marshall said.

The Pierce Atwood law firm was granted a waiver last year for renovations to the former Cumberland Cold Storage building on the waterfront. That project triggered the ordinance because it received $2.8 million in tax increment financing from the city.

The Baxter Library renovation, which received a TIF, also received a waiver. But Marshall said that one was appropriate, since the project would have lost historic value, and tax credits, because of LEED certification.

"After seeing a couple of these go through, like the Cumberland Cold Storage, it became clear to me we needed to revisit the ordinance," Marshall said.

Parker said Avesta is committed to the LEED program and plans to build green and energy-efficient buildings. He said the group is not seeking waivers for two other developments.

"We are fully behind the LEED program," he said.

Parker said the agency is pursuing LEED Gold certification, at a cost of about $78,000, for Phase II of Pearl Place. The year-long project is slated to get started this fall, he said.

Platinum certification is being sought for 37 artists lofts on Oak Street, at a cost of about $20,000. That project is already underway and should be fully leased by next spring, he said.

Parker said additional costs of removing and disposing of contaminated soils have also driven up the Adams project costs.

But the waiver requests have prompted a general review of the ordinance.

The Green Building Incentive Task Force has recommended several changes to the council's Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee.

In a July 7 memo, the task force (composed of city officials, developers, business leaders and a green building expert) recommended increasing the trigger for LEED certification from $25,000 to $200,000.

It also recommends, among others, removing renovations from the ordinance and allowing any third-party green certification, rather than requiring LEED.
While discouraged that the Green Building Code has not worked out as well as anticipated, Marshall said he remains committed to developing policies that ensure that tax-funded developers are building energy-efficient buildings.

"Especially when most of our buildings are heated with home heating fuel, it's just so important we change the ways in our construction to create better performing buildings," he said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.

Thursday, July 07, 2011


Committee mulls plans to counter sea level rises
By David Carkhuff
Jul 07, 2011 12:00 am

Waves over 10 feet high battered Portland during the Patriot's Day Storm in mid-April 2007, yielding the seventh highest tide since the early 1900s.

Today, a city committee is considering the impacts if storms like the Patriot's Day Storm strike in tandem with another feared event — projected rises in sea levels attributed to the effects of climate change.

"The Patriot’s Day Storm will long be remembered for its meteorological significance and devastating power," recalls the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System. "Violent waves destroyed homes, businesses, coastal roads, and beaches, while forceful winds tore down power lines leaving many residents in the dark for days."

"We want to be able to start planning our investments to be able to avoid those kinds of capital costs in the future," said City Councilor Dave Marshall, chair of Portland's Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee. The committee is mulling a planning effort that would help the city cope with rising sea levels, as part of its meeting today at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

"Tide gauge measurements and satellite altimetry suggest that sea level has risen worldwide approximately 4.8-8.8 inches (12-22 cm) during the last century," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Many scientists say manmade global warming contributes to these changes in sea levels. The EPA states that "the addition of greenhouse gases and aerosols has changed the composition of the atmosphere. The changes in the atmosphere have likely influenced temperature, precipitation, storms and sea level." Not everyone agrees, and skeptics point to a lull in global warming between 1998 and 2008 as one counterargument to the theory that people are affecting the planet's climate. (And on Tuesday, Washington Post blogger Andrew Freedman even cited a new study that blames the 10-year lull in global warming on China's coal use and air pollution, arguing that coal actually screens the Earth from the sun's heat.)

As the issue of climate change is debated, Portland is looking to position itself to mitigate the impacts of storm surges and sea level rises.

"We're trying to get the city administration to start going through a planning process to plan our capital investments around the impact of sea level rise," Marshall said.

The Patriots Day storm cost a huge amount in infrastructure damage, Marshall recalled. The city had to rebuild the East End Trail, Back Cove and portions of Bayside.

"When that storm came in, Bayside was substantially flooded, Commercial Street was flooded," Marshall said. "Even without a storm when you go out to Marginal Way during the spring high tide you can have standing high water on the street."

Commercial Street and Bayside are among the "areas we claimed from the ocean a while ago," Marshall said, and as sea levels have risen, those areas could face damage. The ideal long-term vision would avoid putting money into areas that aren't adequately protected, he noted.

"It's really an immediate issue, and it's not something that we should put off," Marshall said.

The meeting agenda suggests a city council resolution asking city staff to launch the process.

"We haven't discussed hiring a consultant," Marshall added, but if staff came back and asked for help, the city council could consider it, he said.

Measure making marijuana 'lowest police priority' advances
By Casey Conley
Jul 06, 2011 12:00 am

Sensible Portland, the group behind a citizen-petition to make marijuana enforcement the lowest priority for city police, says it has gathered enough signatures to put the initiative on the November ballot.

In a Monument Square press conference yesterday, the group’s leadership said they are hoping the proposal will spur “an adult conversation” about marijuana policy that could spread well beyond city limits.

“To be clear, we hope that this measure is a step toward the eventual end of prohibition of marijuana in this country,” said John Eder, a spokesman for Sensible Portland and a former Green Party state representative. “This local ordinance isn't a small thing.

“Most movements start locally, and this movement will have its effect on the state, … and it will have its effect nationally, as Maine joins the chorus of states and cities that are going on record saying they want to end the prohibition of marijuana for persons over the age of 21,” Eder continued.

Sensible Portland’s proposal would amend city statutes to codify that possession-level marijuana offenses, for non-violent adults who are 21 or older, would be the lowest enforcement priority for city police.

A summary of the ordinance provided yesterday by Sensible Portland said the ordinance aimed to prohibit police from arresting or fining non-violent adults 21 or older for possession-level offenses, or “ascertaining the possession” of marijuana or paraphernalia.

Exemptions to those provisions are built in to the ordinance for persons who are either committing a violent act, or have a previous conviction for a violent crime.

Under Maine law, possession of a "usable amount" of the drug — less than 2.5 ounces — is considered a civil penalty punishable by fines up to $1,000. Possession of drug paraphernalia is also a civil penalty, punishable by a $300 fine.

Marijuana-related infractions can escalate depending on the nature of the offense. Possession of more than 2.5 ounces is considered intent to sell, which can lead to jail time and fines of up to $20,000. Sale of paraphernalia can also lead to jail time.

The ordinance does not explictly seek to prohibit police from intervening in drug sales that involve marijuana.

By directing police to focus on matters other than petty possession, the group hopes additional resources will be focused on violent crime and “harder” drugs. The measure also aims to protect medical marijuana patients from harassment if federal authorities crack down on legal use of the drug.

“We don’t want to take it for granted, we want to codify that this is our lowest law enforcement priority, because with a new incoming chief and a new incoming mayor, those priorities could shift,” Eder said.

The proposed ordinance doesn’t prohibit local police from interacting with federal drug authorities. There is no sanction against city police for ignoring the ordinance, should it pass.

As drafted, the ordinance calls on the mayor to report back to the city council each year with details on how well the ordinance is being followed.

The Sensible Portland measure was based on existing ordinances in places like Seattle, Oakland and Denver, as well as policies enacted in smaller municipalities in Montana and Arkansas.

Although most city ordinances aren’t created through referendum, there have been some notable exceptions over the years. For example, city residents in 1987 voted nearly 2-1 to enact new zoning rules designed to protect the working waterfront.

Over the past five weeks, a handful of volunteers with Sensible Portland have collected more than 2,100 signatures — well above the 1,500-signature threshold required by city statute. The city clerk now has 15 days to verify those signatures.

If that occurs, the measure will go to the city council, which can either vote to approve the ordinance amendments (something seen as unlikely) or place it on the Nov. 8 city ballot, which will also decide the city’s first elected mayor in more than 80 years.

Anna Trevorrow, a former charter commissioner and state Green Party chair, said yesterday that she and other volunteers witnessed plenty of support in Portland for initiatives like this one that "get us closer to progressive marijuana policy reform."

"We met with great response from Portland voters who were signing eagerly, who were not sure why marijuana was not already legal," she said, adding, “We feel that this goes beyond decriminalization."

She said the group has not discussed the proposal with Portland police.

Assistant Chief Mike Sauschuck — who will take over administration of Portland police department once Chief James Craig leaves for his new post in Cincinnati — declined to comment on the proposed amendments.

In an email, he did say that the department is “looking forward to working with the City Council and staff in regards to this issue but we have had no discussions with 'Sensible Portland' and have no official comment at this point.”

Councilor Dave Marshall, who sits on the council’s Public Safety Committee, said yesterday that he is “supportive of the petitioners and their effort to bring this to referendum.”

“I think the referendum is the most appropriate place for this issue to be addressed,” he said.

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