Portland voters did the right thing Tuesday and overwhelmingly rejected an ill-conceived, anti-development referendum that would have made responsible growth in the city more difficult for decades.

Question 2 was aimed to limit the redevelopment of the old Portland Co. site on the eastern waterfront, particularly on upper Fore Street, where two- and three-story buildings could affect public and private views.

But the ordinance was much more broadly written and would have given anyone the ability to slow down almost any development that they didn’t like. As one local anti-development activist has bragged, “The power to delay is the power to destroy” and that is why the city would have been worse off with this proposed ordinance than it is today.

However, the work on this issue should not end now. Proponents of the ordinance raised several legitimate and serious issues that the city should address, even though the ordinance did not pass.

One is the lack of diversity on the Planning Board, which undermines public confidence in its decisions. Too many members of the board are directly connected to the building and development industry. They bring valuable real-world experience to the board’s work, but they also create the impression that it’s a closed club. Appointments to the board should include laypeople with credibility in the community who can vouch for the work done by the professionals.

And it should be clear to every policy maker that affordable housing is a top priority for Portland. The referendum was in some ways a reaction to the pace of high-end development in the city, and there will be more like it if middle-class people feel they have nothing to gain from growth.

Finally, the city needs to do more to get developers to engage with their future neighbors. People who live near a prospective development shouldn’t have a veto over new construction, but they shouldn’t be surprised by it either. The lack of information about what is planned for 58 Fore St. was a driver of the referendum campaign.

Portland voters did the right thing Tuesday. Now the city’s elected officials need to do the right thing, too.


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