The planning process for the Portland Co. parcel at 58 Fore St. highlights several aspects of Portland’s unique character. The property’s owners plan to redevelop. Save the Soul of Portland seeks a new zoning overlay to protect existing vistas against change.

Battle lines have been drawn, with the City Council, Planning Board and owners of the property on one side, and Save the Soul of Portland on the other. By varying accounts, Portland’s economic potential, scenery and vitality are at stake with the fate of this process.

The site’s owners and would-be developers have successfully negotiated the city’s planning process, with the Planning Board’s unanimous approval and a favorable 7-2 City Council decision to their credit. Save the Soul of Portland has begun a signature and referendum drive to reverse these findings.

In addition to rendering the City Council’s decision null, the referendum would add new requirements for potential developers of the Portland Co. property and establish a task force to identify new viewsheds in Portland requiring protection.

Save the Soul of Portland objects to the City Council’s decision to approve a project without viewing detailed plans.

In a news release announcing the referendum drive, Save the Soul of Portland spokesperson Anne Rand said, “That’s like walking down a dark alley at midnight.”

Rand continues, “We don’t know what to expect. The city shouldn’t be granting a blank check to developers before we even know what they intend to build.”

A casual observer might be confused, as it is Rand’s group that advocates establishing a task force with power to enact new restrictions on any property owner, anywhere in Portland, and recast the city’s standards for development. “Blank check,” indeed.

The citizens of Portland and our many guests arriving by cruise ship, airplane or car have access to unparallelled public trails thanks to Portland Trails and its volunteers; beautiful public parks maintained by the city; as well as renowned restaurants, art galleries, museums and breweries.

These cultural features undergo continuous change and improvement as Portland grows, tastes change and old favorites are rediscovered. The city’s environment – its unique combination of landscape, seascape and cityscape – provides a canvas for this cultural dynamism.

Portland’s peninsula is on display in panoramic views from the Eastern Promenade, the Western Promenade, Fort Allen Park, Eastern Cemetery, Standpipe Park and the North Street Community Garden. Judging based on these spaces, the city of Portland’s record for providing scenic recreational options for the public is excellent.

The city’s commitment to maintaining and growing this living legacy of healthful public recreation space is further evidenced in its partnerships with Portland Trails to foster development of a citywide multi-use trail network.

These improvements to Portland’s environment are made possible in part by healthy relationships between the city and its visitors, residents and businesses. The industriousness, creativity and ingenuity of its people, when exercised in concert with these relationships, provide fuel for the cultural dynamism that refreshes Portland, attracts visitors and retains residents.

At the vista that would be preserved, a century’s wind and weather weigh on the facades and roofs of the Portland Co. complex, which currently stand as fading remnants of a past era of industriousness.

Save the Soul of Portland fails to see the weathered planks before its eyes, as it probes for a speck of an excuse to prevent their improvement. Is it in the interest of the people of Portland to actively prevent the owners from breathing new life into this parcel?

Saving souls is not typically undertaken at the ballot box; nonetheless, it is clear that the proposed referendum endangers the soul of Portland.

If Portland’s motto (“Resurgam,” translated from the Latin: “I shall rise again”), its soul, is to abide in the present rather than persisting as a vestige of a bygone optimism, its people must not support capricious and myopic obstructionism, no matter what name it goes by.

The citizens and their city will benefit by allowing the decisions of the City Council and Planning Board to stand, and Portland’s next chapter to be written.

— Special to the Press Herald