The Portland City Council will hold a public hearing Monday night on a citizen petition to increase protections on open spaces.

Before the 7 p.m. hearing in the council chambers, though, the council will hold a workshop to consider putting a competing ordinance before voters.

The citizen petition would add 35 parks – which now can be sold with a simple majority vote of the council – to a list of protected properties and require the approval of eight out of nine councilors to sell them.

Mayor Michael Brennan said the citizen proposal is too restrictive.

“There’s nothing we do now that requires an 8-1 vote of the council,” Brennan said. “We were looking for some vote that is more in line with what we’re doing now.”

Frank Turek, president of the Friends of Congress Square Park, said the city should not offer a competing ordinance, since the citizen petition received the signatures of more than 4,000 people. A competing measure would “throw dirt in (voters’) eyes,” Turek said.

Turek said Friday his group believes there is “a public mandate” for residents to vote on the measure in June. “(Councilors) don’t want this to pass. The only thing left for them to do is to confuse voters at the polls by offering a competing measure.”

Offering a competing measure is one of three actions the council can take in response to a citizen petition. Councilors could also put the citizen petition out to voters as is, or adopt it without going to referendum.

If the ordinance is adopted through a citywide vote in June, councilors would not be able to change it for five years, according to the city’s corporation counsel, Danielle West-Chuhta.

If the ordinance is adopted by the council, like any other ordinance, it could be changed at any time.

“All of those options will be up for discussion on Monday,” Brennan said.

The citizen petition stems from the council’s 6-3 decision last fall to sell two-thirds of Congress Square Plaza to the Ohio-based developer Rockbridge Capital, which bought and renovated the former Eastland Hotel into the upscale Westin Portland Harborview Hotel.

The citizen petition could potentially negate the sale of the plaza at Congress and High streets, because the friends group initiated the petition before the sale.

The “Ordinance to Strengthen the Land Bank Ordinance” would add Congress Square and 34 other properties to the city’s Land Bank, which currently protects 25 properties. It would require a vote of eight of the nine councilors to sell any of those properties outright. If six or seven councilors voted to sell a protected property, the sale would be put to voters in a citywide referendum.

Currently, Land Bank properties can be sold with six votes of the council.

The city’s proposed ordinance, however, would add protections to only 25 parks by creating a new list of “Parks Dedicated,” which could be sold with a vote of seven councilors.

“Obviously Congress Square wouldn’t be included in that,” Brennan said.

Other parks that would be protected under the citizen petition, but not under the city’s are: Longfellow Square, Monument Square, Tommy’s Park, Dougherty Field, Fort Gorges, Fort Sumner Park, Harbor View and Tate-Tynge Park, Munjoy South playground, and Riverside Golf Course (except for the parking lot and existing buildings).

As councilors and residents debate a potential June referendum, the city continues to fight the petition effort in court, arguing that the land protection ordinance is administrative and not subject to a citizens initiative. The city’s attorney has said that allowing a referendum on an administrative decision by the council would set a potentially disruptive precedent.

Portland officials initially refused to provide the group with petitions, but it sued in Superior Court and won the right to collect signatures. In November, the city filed an appeal with the Maine Law Court, which has set an expedited schedule for hearing the case.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @randybillings