On Nov. 3, Portland voters will be presented with referendum Question 2, a proposed addition to Portland’s zoning ordinance that is printed in full detail on each ballot.

Although the language of the proposed ordinance may seem dense and legalistic, the purpose and effect of this proposal are simple and straightforward. The zoning law reforms proposed by Question 2 would:

 Protect one of Portland’s premiere public panoramas from being sacrificed to whatever form of real estate redevelopment may ultimately be carried out on the former Portland Co. site at 58 Fore St.

Give the city’s public authorities a tool to protect other unique public view places in Portland.

Require landowners who seek to have their property rezoned to disclose at least in a general way their plans for the property if the rezoning is allowed.

A “yes” vote on Question 2 will not prevent redevelopment of the Portland Co. property. The public view that would be protected affects only the small portion of this 10-acre parcel that is adjacent to Fore Street between Waterville and Atlantic streets.

Even there, a developer would have room to erect a six-story building on the flat land below Fore Street without significantly affecting the view.

Nor would these reforms hinder other projects in the city. Before a public view can achieve protection, it must be rated and evaluated by a citizen panel. Ultimately the City Council would decide which additional public views deserve protection and how much.

One of the difficulties in evaluating the Portland Co. project is that no one knows who will be the ultimate redeveloper of this property and what that developer will put there. The current owners do not seem to be ready to commit to any particular project, but are apparently “packaging” the property for resale or partnership with larger-scale developers.

While it is understandable that fewer land-use restrictions would make their property more attractive for this purpose and hence more valuable, it seems foolish to give out a blank check to destroy a cherished public panorama of Portland Harbor, the ship channel and the lighthouses without having any idea of what would replace it.

The Question 2 reforms would simply require city officials to consider identified public views when making zoning decisions, and would require landowners to disclose what they intend to do when this process is occurring. The ordinance tracks similar ordinances in other cities, including the “other Portland” in Oregon.

It must be stressed that the Question 2 reforms would protect only views enjoyed by the public from streets, parks and other public grounds, and not the views of private parties from their premises.

The public views that would likely obtain protection from these reforms would be relatively few, but several of them, such as the panoramic city view from Fort Sumner Park, are notable and irreplaceable.

Ordinarily, public referendum campaigns are poor and inefficient ways to address changes to zoning and local land-use regulations. However, it appears that Portland’s public officials have failed to adhere to their own comprehensive plan.

They appear to be willing to sacrifice a remarkable public view amenity without any real idea of what would replace it. These circumstances give the Portland electorate no choice but to decide this issue by vote of the people.

Portland’s beautiful and remarkable urban skyline is already interrupted by unfortunate monuments to the insensitivity of past developers and the short-sightedness of past generations of Portland public officials.

If the current landowners of the Portland Co. property had real plans to replace the panoramic harbor view from Fore Street with something better, we would have seen them by now.

Our public amenities, including panoramic views of our surrounding landscapes and seascapes from our streets and public grounds, help make life in Portland special for all of us.

We should not just abandon them in favor of unspecified private development plans that we will have to live with for a long, long time. Portland voters will do themselves and their children a great favor by stepping up and voting “Yes” on Question 2.