The Portland City Council took a significant step Monday toward fulfilling a longtime goal of building a continuous recreational trail around the city’s peninsula.
Councilors unanimously approved entering into an agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation to design and build a 10-foot-wide bike and pedestrian trail along West Commercial Street, from the Star Match office buildings to the Fore River Parkway.
Construction of the West Commercial Street Trail will likely begin next year and cost nearly $353,500, with all but $70,700 being funded through federal sources. The municipal portion will be funded through the city’s 2014 Capital Improvement Plan.
“It reaffirms the city’s commitment to the bike trail,” said City Manager Jon Jennings.
About two-thirds of the trail around the peninsula is already built. The Bayside Trail connects that neighborhood to the Back Cove Trail and the Eastern Promenade Trail, which ends at Franklin Street.
The city will add painted bike lanes, which will be shared with vehicles, along the downtown portion of Commercial Street.
The West Commercial Street Trail will connect to the Fore River Trail. That will leave one last connection – from the Fore River Parkway/Portland Transportation Center to the Bayside Trail.
The city is studying various routes to make that connection, which would either wind through Deering Oaks or run along the rail lines between the park and Interstate 295.
The city has been gathering public feedback about the preferred route, and a decision is expected within the next month or so, said city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin.
West End resident Steven Scharf, a frequent critic of the council, thanked the city for moving forward with the project.
“I look forward to having a trail around the peninsula,” he said.
The city revisited the plan in 2014 as part of the West Commercial Street Multi-Modal Corridor Study, which was undertaken after the International Marine Terminal resumed its container service and Portland Yacht Services built a new facility in that area.
NO MORE ZONING DETERMINATIONS
Also Monday, the City Council voted unanimously to cease the practice of providing written zoning determinations for real estate transactions.
City officials say the city’s most experienced zoning professional can spend anywhere from one to six hours on one letter. The city charges only $250 per letter, and eliminating the discretionary service will result in the loss of $20,000 a year.
Permitting and Inspections Director Michael Russell said the service is optional and many communities are no longer providing it – as recommended by the Maine Municipal Association as a way to reduce a municipality’s legal liability.
Jennings noted such a zoning analysis can be done by real estate attorneys and title companies. Eliminating it will allow the city to further reduce wait times for building permits, which is a frequent complaint.
“We’re really on track to fix this now for the city,” Jennings said of permit wait times.
The proposal would normally need to appear on two city agendas before being voted on, but the council unanimously waived the first reading. It also enacted it as an emergency measure, making it effective immediately.
Jill Duson was the only councilor to vote against passing the measure as an emergency, because she wanted more public notice. However, she joined the council is approving the proposal.
Jennings said the administration is preparing a package of reforms designed to streamline city government, especially in business licensing and inspections and permitting.