The Portland City Council may adopt an ordinance to increase protection for open spaces that differs slightly, but significantly, from a citizens initiative to do the same.

Noticeably missing from the list of spaces that would be protected by the council’s ordinance is Congress Square Plaza – the public space whose potential sale triggered the citizens initiative.

The council will decide March 3 whether to schedule a referendum June 10 on the citizens petition, which would add 35 parks to the city’s list of protected properties and require the sale of any of them to win approval from eight of nine councilors.

They also will decide whether to give voters another choice on the ballot: the council’s ordinance – similar to the petition, minus Congress Square Plaza and other properties.

Another option, however, drew councilors’ interest at a workshop Monday: to adopt the councils’ ordinance and then ask voters about the citizens petition.

As drafted Monday, the council’s ordinance would establish a list of 25 dedicated parks, the sale of which would require approval of seven city councilors.


Mayor Michael Brennan said at the workshop that he would have liked the list of dedicated parks to match the list of properties in the citizens petition – “absent Congress Square.”

The potential for a competing ordinance to get on the ballot or be adopted by the council came up at a public hearing after Monday’s workshop.

Frank Turek, president of the Friends of Congress Square Park, said the more than 4,000 signatures on the petition indicate what residents want. If the council wants to change the wording after it’s approved by voters, he said, it can do so in five years, the minimum time required.

The citizens petition started circulating while city officials were discussing selling two-thirds of Congress Square Plaza to the developer of the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, the former Eastland Park Hotel. Councilors voted in the fall to approve the sale.

Initially, the city refused to provide petitions to sale opponents, but the activists sued in Superior Court and won. The city has appealed that decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

If the city loses and voters approve the petition, the sale of the downtown plaza will be negated.


Rob Levin, attorney for Protect Portland Parks, urged the council Monday to drop the appeal, “so the people really can have a choice in June.”

He said the group didn’t yet have a position on the council adopting its own ordinance, rather than adding it to the ballot.

However, he said, the group took the proposed ordinance as “recognition that there is an existing lack of protection for Portland’s parks.”

Nathan Smith of Capisic Street said “a serious protection of the parks” should be provided through the city charter.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @lesliebridgers

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