The referendum sponsored by the group Save the Soul of Portland should be decisively rejected when it comes before city voters in November.

More and more frequently, well-considered and publicly debated plans adopted by the city are being challenged by individuals and groups who are unhappy with the results. The latest referendum undermines the building height overlay and view corridors established by the Eastern Waterfront Master Planning process.

These height restrictions were the result of four years of work by a committee consisting of 32 dedicated citizens and two city councilors. In addition to the meetings that were held to define the work of the group and draft its principles, this committee held six community meetings plus a two-day community design workshop.

There was no lack of public input into this process, and there were many opportunities for influencing the final plan before its passage by the City Council – which involved yet more public hearings.

Overturning thoughtful decisions made by our elected and appointed officials with citizen input is unlikely to result in good design and planning.

The referendum has been prompted because the developer of the former Portland Co. site proposes to comply with the view restrictions established in the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan.

The Soul of Portland maintains that the referendum is not about the views of a handful of nearby property owners, but about the water view that can be seen from a steep and little-used sidewalk on Fore Street and from moving cars.

This is a view that can already be seen from significant portions of the Eastern Promenade and from the Waterfront Trail, which will remain forever public and intact. In addition, the master plan already protects views looking down the three Munjoy Hill streets that dead-end on Fore Street, and the view looking east and west on Fore Street.

Passage of this referendum will not only threaten the redevelopment of the deteriorating Portland Co. buildings, but also undermine the significant public input that goes into planning decisions in Portland.

How many people will want to contribute to multi-year planning efforts involving interminable public meetings when years later, all their efforts can be overturned or delayed by lawsuits and referendums? Why bother?

This referendum is not just about the property on Fore Street. It establishes a process of evaluating views in all parts of the city and marks a significant invasion into the rights of property owners by establishing an entirely new area of government interference.

It establishes the right of others to see over your property, regardless of what you would otherwise be able to build on your land – if your garage, additional floor or multi-story apartment building interferes with a view from the sidewalk.

The referendum invokes the State Planning Office’s Scenic Assessment Handbook as a tool for evaluating and inventorying viewpoints. It neglects to mention, though, that the inventories are to be used for prioritizing public resources (like tax abatements, public purchases and siting infrastructure) – not for preventing property owners from pursuing permissible activities.

The referendum sets the stage for neighborhood rancor. If it is passed, “20 members of the general public” can stop any alteration or new construction, no matter how minor, by referring it to an as-yet-unformed Scenic View Task Force. It would take maybe five minutes in any bar in town on a Friday night to get 20 signatures for anything.

Given that it would take two months for the task force to be appointed and then another 18 months for the panel to come up with an initial list of scenic viewpoints, it is quite possible that a handful of people could delay any otherwise perfectly legal projects for up to two years.

Does this referendum suggest a way of paying for the staff involved in establishing a list of views or evaluating individual projects? No. And if the task force or the new process proves to be unwieldy, can the City Council revise it? No – it must go through the referendum process again.

Would the Gulf of Maine Research Institute building ever have been built – it totally blocks a view from Commercial Street? What about the expansion of the Ferry Terminal? City Hall blocks the view of Back Cove. The houses on the Western Promenade block views of the White Mountains.

This kind of law would not have allowed Portland to become the city it is. To preserve predictability and civility while permitting Portland to grow, vote “no” on the referendum.