The Portland City Council on Monday imposed new licensing fees and additional oversight on craft brewers and tour guides, while easing fees on some builders.

Beginning April 20, breweries in Portland will have to pay a $500 fee to operate a tasting room in Maine’s largest city – the epicenter of the state’s craft beer scene.

In a unanimous vote, the council approved the new license requirement as a way to level the regulatory playing field with traditional bars, which pay thousands of dollars in licensing fees to serve a variety of alcohol and food.

Tasting rooms have burst onto the scene since a state law was changed in 2011 to allow brewers to sell samples of the beer they make. Since then, tasting rooms have grown from a nook in a brewery to something resembling bars. Some partner with food truck operators and have live music, though their hours are more limited than bars.

Tasting rooms were not previously required to get a city license.

Councilor Edward Suslovic said the city had a legitimate public safety concern in regulating tasting rooms.


“What we have in front of us is a very modest licensing program for tasting rooms,” Suslovic said. “For all intents and purposes, they are a bar, but they’re only serving one product line” – the beer they produce.

No one spoke at the public hearing before Monday’s vote. But some bar owners have complained that breweries have an unfair advantage over bars.

Councilor Belinda Ray said she had received several emails from concerned bar owners. Although she agrees with the city’s licensing plan, she suggested that the city hold a forum with bar owners, who may feel like the city is favoring the budding brewery industry over traditional bars.

“It would be great to have a conversation so everyone feels they have an equal opportunity in this city to be successful,” Ray said.


Also Monday, the council voted unanimously to add a new licensing requirement for tour operators in the city.


It will require tour guides to be licensed with the city, which will conduct background checks on operators. It also allows tour vehicles to be inspected.

Tour operators will pay a $300 licensing fee, plus an additional $30 per operator and vehicle. Similar rules already exist for horse-drawn carriages and bicycle cabs.

But the new requirement does not prohibit tour guides with no fixed storefronts from soliciting business near those with an actual storefront.

Twain Braden, an attorney for Portland Discovery, which operates trolley and sea tours from a building at 180 Commercial St., argued that the ordinance change would make it easier for people to solicit business on city streets, by removing the current prohibition. He asked the council to enact a so-called buffer around fixed-based tour companies, which have strict rules about where they place signs.

He said the ordinance change does not regulate so-called transient tour guides, especially regarding the size of tables and booths.

“You’re basically about to pass something and you have no idea how you’re going to deal with it,” Braden said. “You already have an issue. You have a serious congestion problem on Portland streets and you’re inviting additional problems.”


Braden was seeking the buffer zone because of an ongoing dispute with the owner of the Portland Fire Engine Co., a private company that provides tours of the city. Portland Discovery staff members have accused the owner of threats and intimidation.

Councilor David Brenerman said the council’s Economic Development Committee decided against recommending a buffer zone, because there was no record of public safety issues.

Meanwhile, other buffer zones that restrict free speech have been deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ordinance change allows the city manager to enact rules to address problems. City Manager Jon Jennings said the city would increase patrols to deal with problems.

“We will have that dedicated officer patrolling Commercial Street the vast majority of the time on Saturdays and Sundays,” he said. “If someone is harassing or yelling and doing those kinds of things, we can cite them.”



The council also decided to exempt some development projects that require a building permit from paying a 36 percent increase in permitting fees that was adopted at its March 7 meeting.

Projects that would be subject to the old fee of 1.1 percent of the costs above $1,000 would be those that have received a site plan or administrative approval for their projects by March 31 and receive their building permits by Sept. 30. Fees for other projects would be 1.5 percent of costs above $1,000.

Developers large and small asked the council to make the exemption as broad as possible.

Christopher Hickey said he has been waiting to pull permits for a two-unit affordable housing project on Alba Street. He noted that the council last year increased the fees on new purple city trash bags, only to approve an amnesty program allowing residents to use up their old blue bags, leading to a loss in revenue.

“I would like to think someone who is developing a project in the city of Portland would get the same consideration as a bag of trash,” Hickey said.

Chip Newell, who has a six-story condominium project on Newbury Street going before the Planning Board on Tuesday, suggested that either his project be exempted from the higher fees, or other projects, like Federated Cos., which has site plan approval for its “midtown” project but hasn’t applied for permits, be subjected to the new fees.


“Just treat everybody fairly, please,” Newell said.

The council spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how projects should be grandfathered.

Mayor Ethan Strimling, who generally opposed grandfathering because of a projected $600,000 loss of revenue, said the city should be as strict as possible, keeping with the original proposal of grandfathering only those projects that were approved by March 8.

“If you were after that, the fee is what it is,” he said. “It seems to me that’s the fairest way moving forward.”

However, Councilor Ray persuaded the council to move the March 8 deadline to March 31, so Newell’s Luminato Condominium project could be grandfathered if approved Tuesday by the board.

Councilor Jon Hinck opposed the changes, because the council did not favor adding energy-efficiency standards for those projects being grandfathered.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who voted on March 7 to create the new office of permitting and inspections, was not at Monday’s meeting. The real estate attorney had previously expressed concern about having a conflict of interest about exempting some projects from the new fees, since his firm represents a developer who would benefit.

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