November 2, 2013

Congress Square Plaza petition effort on hold until next week

Pending a city appeal, a justice grants a temporary stay until Monday morning.

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

A group of residents will have to wait at least until Monday to receive petition papers from the Portland city clerk’s office in an effort to undo the sale of Congress Square Plaza.

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Frank Turek, president of the Friends of Congress Square Park, poses for a portrait Thursday in Congress Square Park.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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The Friends of Congress Square Park want to enact an ordinance through a citywide referendum next summer that would increase protections for open spaces in the city. If that effort is successful, the new ordinance could then lead to a voter referendum on the fate of Congress Square Plaza.

The city denied the group’s initial request for petition papers, prompting it to sue.

On Thursday, Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler ruled that the city should have granted the petitions and ordered the city to make them available by 3 p.m. Friday.

The city plans to appeal the decision, and asked the court to delay the release of the petitions until its appeal is heard by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Wheeler was not available Friday to hear arguments on the city’s request, so Justice Thomas Humphrey granted a temporary stay until Monday morning.

“Friends of Congress Square Park is disappointed not to have its petition forms in hand for tonight’s First Friday Art Walk and tomorrow’s Farmers Market, but understands the unique circumstances that have led to this temporary delay,” said Robert Levin, an attorney for the group.

The city declined to comment further on the decision.

Last month, the City Council voted 6-3 to sell about two-thirds of Congress Square Plaza to Rockbridge Capital for $523,640. The Ohio-based company is redeveloping the adjacent Eastland Park Hotel, with plans to reopen it in December as the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel and build an event center on the land it would buy from the city.

The new ordinance would require at least eight of the nine city councilors to vote in favor of selling protected open spaces outright. If only six or seven councilors supported a sale, the question would be put to voters in a citywide referendum.

The sale of Congress Square Plaza to Rockbridge could be affected if the new ordinance is enacted, because the request for petition forms was filed before the council’s vote.

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

rbillings@mainetoday.comTwitter: @randybillings


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