February 26, 2010

Council OKs new 'places of assembly' zoning

MATT WICKENHEISER

— By

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040317-N-6528K-089 Pensacola, Fla. (Mar. 17, 2004 � USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) arrives at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., for a four-day port visit after completing a Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMTUEX) in the Gulf of Mexico. COMPTUEX is an intermediate level exercise designed to forge the strike group into a cohesive fighting team and is a critical step in pre-deployment training. During COMPTUEX, more than a dozen ships, and Carrier Air Wing Seventeen (CVW-17) embarked on Kennedy, conducted war game exercises using training ranges along the East Coast of the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico. The exercise took advantage of existing ranges under the Navy�s comprehensive Training Resource Strategy (TRS). These ranges offer training facilities and realistic simulations, better preparing U.S. Navy ships and Sailors to participate in the Global War on Terrorism. U.S. Navy photo by Larry Kachelhofer. (RELEASED)

U.S Navy

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The City Council approved zoning changes Monday night to make it easier for religious groups to set up places of worship -- changes prompted by a lawsuit by a group of Afghan Muslims who have established a mosque on Washington Avenue.

The new zoning addresses a disparity between the previous minimum lot sizes for new places of worship and Grange halls, community centers and private clubs. The zoning previously required at least two acres for any new place of worship but allowed smaller lots for the other organizations.

The new rules create a land-use category called ''places of assembly'' and establish lot size and parking requirements based on location and the density of neighborhoods. In densely settled neighborhoods or on land along arterials such as Washington Avenue, a place of assembly could be on a lot as small as a half-acre.

Places of worship established before the adoption of the new rules are exempt.

The council voted 7-0 in favor of the changes, with Councilors Daniel Skolnik and Kevin Donoghue absent.

The Maine Civil Liberties Union sued the city last summer on behalf of the Afghan Muslims who run the mosque. The city and leaders of the Portland Masjid and Islamic Center reached an agreement that allowed the group to continue to practice religion there temporarily.

As part of the agreement, the mosque's leaders agreed to work on their property to address flooding in the neighborhood.

An attorney with the MCLU had said that zoning changes such as those approved Monday would make most of the lawsuit moot.

The council also voted 9-0 Monday night to have Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. draft a letter in support of a group that's petitioning the Navy to donate the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy to be used as a monument and museum in Portland Harbor.

The 1,052-foot ship was removed from service in 2007, and has been docked in Philadelphia Harbor. The Navy said in a notice in the Federal Register Nov. 23 that it is available for donation as a museum or memorial to any state, commonwealth, municipal corporation or nonprofit. The deadline for submission is Jan. 22.

Several members of the ''J.F.K. for ME'' group spoke to the council in support of the donation. Dana W. Slipp said his group wouldn't even be considered without a letter of support from the city. Two application processes will follow this one, Slipp said.

''We've got a long row to hoe, here,'' he said.

The group isn't asking for money from the city, Slipp said, and doesn't anticipate doing so. If the group advances to the second phase of applications, it will begin raising funds, he said.

''We think it's important for the community, we think it's important to the state of Maine,'' he said.

Several speakers said economic development would come from having a massive naval museum in Portland Harbor. It would be a tourism boost, they said, and a job generator.

Steven Scharf, head of the Portland Taxpayers Association, urged the council to ''kill'' the idea immediately. He argued that giving even preliminary support would make it hard for the city to stop supporting the project and to avoid putting money into it at some point.

Scharf noted that the USS Yorktown sits in Charleston Harbor, needing $34 million in renovations.

''These boats are not cheap to maintain,'' said Scharf. ''I really don't think we're in a position to go after such an enormous hunk of metal.''

The council also voted 8-1 against a proposal to change the eligibility requirements for residents to serve on the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee, which reviews how Portland police investigate complaints by the public.

The proposal was made by Skolnik; his was the only vote in favor.

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

mwickenheiser@pressherald.com

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