The Portland City Council voted 5-4 Monday night to rezone 45 acres of open space on outer Westbrook Street to allow a developer to build nearly 100 single-family homes, while preserving 25 acres of recreational open space for public use.

The proposal for Camelot Farm at 1700 Westbrook St. still needs subdivision and site plan approval before it moves forward.

Mayor Ethan Strimling voted against the proposal, because it did not include enough affordable housing. He said the city should have negotiated more affordable housing units in exchange for the zone change.

The project would trigger the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, which would set aside about eight or nine units of workforce housing, which would be affordable to people making up to 120 percent of the area median income. In this case, a four bedroom house would sell for over $300,000, but that would be affordable to a family with an income of nearly $100,000, planning staff said.

“We must leverage our moment to max our impact on the affordable housing crisis,” Strimling said. “On this one, I just don’t feel like we got there.”

That remark drew a rebuke from fellow councilors, who argued that affordable housing – especially single-family homes – is not an option for all sites in the city.

“It’s a great thing to say, but I don’t think it’s realistic,” said City Councilor Belinda Ray, who supported the change. Ray said developers can only build affordable housing with cheap land or a strong commercial tenants.

Ray said the rezoning would accomplish several city goals, including the creation of new single family homes and protecting open space for public use.

“I think it’s a good deal for the city,” she said. “I think the public participation has helped make it a better deal for the city.”

City Councilor Brian Batson, who represents the district, voted against the rezoning based on feedback from his constituents.

“I think for me it’s a easy decision tonight for me to represent my constituents in voting ‘no’ on this,” Batson said, noting his campaign vow to put the district first. “I’m happy to be a vessel for your concerns.”

Councilors Justin Costa and David Brenerman also opposed the change.

The vote brings to a close six months of study and deliberations by city planners, but it may not be the last they hear about the proposal. A group of residents is collecting signatures to change the way the city rezones land. If successful, the effort could impact the project at Camelot Farm.

A group of Maine investors going by the name Camelot Holdings LLC has a contract to purchase the property, which includes about 2,000 feet of river frontage, so it can be developed into a residential subdivision with 95 single-family homes. The group subsequently bought an additional 10 acres of adjacent land it would like to develop.

Camelot Holdings said it sought the zone change to allow them to build more homes closer together so more open space can be preserved and made available to the public.

The rezoning proposal was unanimously recommended by the Planning Board to the City Council as a way to protect 24 acres of land and open it up to the public. In it report to the council, the board indicated that the project would be built in four phases of 20 to 25 lots each.

Neighbors near the largest undeveloped parcel of land in Portland, known as Camelot Farm, are concerned about the scale of the project. The current proposal for the subdivision is for 95 single family homes on the property. Staff Photo by Gregory Rec Staff Photo by Gregory Rec

Michael Barton, representing the developer, said noted that the property would be developed even if the council denied the zone change from R-1 to R-3. He said that the existing R-1 zoning would allow for 80 homes.

However, without a zoning change, the possibility for open space would be eliminated, since the minimum lot size under current zoning is 15,000 square feet, as opposed to the 6,500 square feet, if the zone was changed.

The proposal drew both support and condemnation during an hour-long public hearing.

Opponents were worried about increased traffic and a dramatic change in their neighborhood, including the loss of natural habitat along the Stroudwater River.

However, supporters said the project could infuse the city with some much needed housing, especially for young families who would rather stay in Portland than move to the suburbs.

Carlton Smith, vice president of the Stroudwater Village Association, said the group tried to work with the developer to scale back the project, but in the end, it’s not something they could get behind.

“But the final result is a gigantic – like a nuclear explosion – of the entire character of the area,” Smith said.

Stroudwater resident Bill Linnell said the city has gotten into a habit of approving zoning changes, simply so developers can profit. “It’s a habit we’ve gotten into here in Portland,” Linnell said. “I’m asking you to draw a line and say no to this project.”

Supporters, however, noted that the zone change would actually protect 24 acres of land along the river ensuring it remains open to the public through an easement to either the city or a third party.

Oakdale resident Tim Schneider said there are few housing options for families like his – which recently expanded to three children. His preference would be to remain in Portland, rather than move to Gorham, Westbrook or the northern suburbs, like many of his friends have done.

“I know what we’re supposed to do now,” he said, of leaving Portland. “But I really love Portland. I live and work here. I want to be part of this diverse community.”

Meanwhile, a group of residents is collecting signatures for a November referendum to increase the community’s voice in rezoning decisions.

The proposal would require a developer to get the support of neighborhood residents before getting a zone change, according to documents provided by the city. Currently, those decisions are made by the Planning Board and City Council after receiving a staff recommendation and listening to public comment.

The proposed ordinance would prevent a zone change from being enacted if 25 percent of residents living within 500 feet sign a document opposing the change. However, a developer could overcome that obstacle by getting a majority of residents living within 1,000 feet of the site to sign a document in support within a 45-day period.

The city clerk said the group has until Aug. 7 to submit the 1,500 signatures to get the proposal on the ballot.

Correction: This story was updated at 9:57 a.m. on July 25, 2017 to correct the maximum income for a family of four to qualify for a new home under the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance.

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

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