Portland residents will decide in November whether to enact a city ordinance meant to preserve sweeping harbor views from parts of Munjoy Hill, which if passed could torpedo the redevelopment of the nearby Portland Co. Complex.

The City Council voted 9-0 late Monday night to send the referendum question to voters, after a group of residents calling themselves “Save the Soul of Portland” handed in 2,500 voter signatures in early July asking for the public to weigh in.

The group is principally opposed to early concepts for redevelopment of the 10-acre Portland Co. site and the possibility of multiple stories of condominiums rising above the grade level of Fore Street, although exact plans for the site haven’t been released by the developer, CPB2.

More than a squabble over who has a right to see what from their home or sidewalk, advocates for the referendum framed the issue around the larger trend of rapid, large-scale development in Portland, and a sense of powerlessness to change a developer’s plans once the bureaucratic process begins.

“It is in this period that many of us have lost confidence in this council to balance the needs of the people with that of the developers,” said Anne Rand, spokeswoman for Save the Soul of Portland. “It appears to be a one-way street. The developer asks for a zone change, works with the city for months, gets exactly what it wants, and then the public process begins.”

The developer contends that it has followed the city’s rules for zoning and has tailored its proposals to conform to long-term plans for the waterfront, including height restrictions, that were developed years ago in an extensive public input process.

“I think it would be fair to say that this is the most restrictive site in the entire state of Maine that could be developed,” said Jim Brady, a principal at CPB2. “We want to create a vibrant, new urban neighborhood.”

But with the scenic views ordinance in effect, Brady said, a sizable portion of the property would become useless for development.

If passed by voters, the referendum would create two new designations. One would designate the areas of the city considered worth preserving for their scenic value. The second would delineate areas where those vistas would be viewed.

As written, the ordinance only specifies one of each new zone, defining the working waterfront area as the vista to be protected, and would limit the construction of intruding buildings as seen from the sidewalk on the south side of Fore Street between Atlantic Street and Waterville Street – directly adjacent to the Portland Co. Complex.

Another provision of the proposed law would create a task force of 13 people to identify other scenic vistas worth preserving, and make recommendations to the City Council and Planning Board on them. New view points could be added by the task force, by a property owner, or by any 20 residents who petition the city.

Mary Costigan, an attorney for the developers, discussed the issue in stark terms.

“This is a very, very dangerous ordinance,” said Costigan, who foresaw broad, unintended consequences for other parts of the city that could include limiting development in many areas.

Separate from the extensive public comment on the referendum question, the City Council itself wrestled with the process of putting it on the ballot.

State law requires that the summary placed on a ballot be devoid of biased or persuasive language so voters receive a concise, neutral appraisal of what the question would do.

In this case, councilors objected to several non-neutral terms in the summary proposed by Save the Soul of Portland. The council chose to adopt a revised summary, but also chose to place the entire ordinance language on the ballot as well.

The lengthy ordinance will require the city to spend $10,000 to print an extra ballot to accommodate the extra language.