Politics

January 22

In speech, Portland mayor sets sights on city’s future

Michael Brennan is expected to talk about the city’s real estate boom in his State of the City address.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan will speak Wednesday as the city still faces pending court cases over First Amendment complaints.

Gabe Souza/Staff file photo

The council and Planning Board recently approved increased heights and development plans for the first of four 165-foot-tall residential towers in Bayside. Two new downtown hotels are nearly finished, and the former Eastland Hotel reopened in December after a $50 million renovation as the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel. Also, dozens of market-rate apartment units have been proposed or approved on Munjoy Hill.

Meanwhile, a decision to change the zoning rules to allow an office use inside the historic Williston-West Church was overturned by the Superior Court, which reviewed the decision on an appeal of West End residents.

Plumb said she would like to hear Brennan set a balanced vision for development. “It seems to me that is something the mayor needs to speak to and put into context,” she said.

The city has also enacted several new ordinances that prompted First Amendment complaints.

Residents packed the council chambers to protest the sale of Congress Square Park to a private developer, and then sued the city for denying a group of residents petition papers to protect the plaza and 34 other open spaces. The residents won in court, which was concerned about infringing on free speech, but the city is appealing the decision.

Citizens also took the city to court on free speech grounds over a ban on loitering and panhandling in street medians. A federal judge has yet to rule in that case.

And while it is not yet the focus of a lawsuit in Maine, the fate of a buffer zone preventing anti-abortion protesters from demonstrating outside Planned Parenthood’s downtown clinic hinges on a precedent-setting freedom-of-speech case before the U.S. Supreme Court. During oral arguments in that Massachusetts case last week, Supreme Court justices were skeptical that buffer zones were in line with the First Amendment. They’re expected to rule by this summer.

Mayor Brennan also was entangled in a few internal struggles with city councilors, who have been critical of his leadership in setting council goals and his consolidation of existing subcommittees.

Brennan and the city’s top attorney also claimed the mayor could prevent items from appearing on the agenda, but councilors reaffirmed their access to the agenda by refusing to change the council rules.

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

rbillings@pressherald.com

Twitter: @randybillings

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