PORTLAND — After months of deliberations, the divided City Council Monday took a first step toward relocating the city’s homeless shelter to Riverton.

By a 5-4 vote, councilors decided to build a new shelter on city-owned property at 654 Riverside St. They urged the Health and Human Services Committee to begin a policy discussion about who the shelter would serve, how intake would work and the budget needed for both construction and operation.

While the shelter discussion took up much of the meeting, the council also approved zoning amendments that will reduce non-marine development within the Waterfront Central Zone, the continued operation of Portland Downtown for fiscal year 2020, and several outdoor dining applications, including Bird & Co. on Deering Avenue; LB Kitchen on York Street; Locally Sauced at Thompson’s Point; Royale Lunch Bar on Union Street, and a parklet dining area for Portland Hunt & Alpine Club on Market Street.

Councilor Belinda Ray, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said she favored the Riverside Street shelter location because it has adequate space – unlike the alternative site at “Angelo’s Acre” at 431 Commercial St. The site also has good access to transportation and provides a better buffer between the shelter and the nearby residential neighborhood, she said.

Mayor Ethan Strimling and Councilors Pious Ali, Kimberly Cook, and Justin Costa were not convinced Riverside was the right choice.

Costa said the decision was a difficult one and he was not in a position to choose either location at this point.

“I cannot get myself comfortable or supportive of either site. I think there are other ways we can move forward,” he said.

Strimling said he doesn’t support either site, saying the proposed 150-bed shelter is too big and a better, more localized model is needed.

Cook said she also felt the proposed facility was too large and Portland was picking up too much of the burden of being the only low-barrier shelter with overflow capacity in the state.

“We are feeling the effects of that,” she said.

Cook said she would rather see councilors nail down policy decisions in terms of who the shelter would be serving, how intake would happen and how much it would cost to build and operate the facility before a site is selected.

Councilor Nick Mavodones, who said he reluctantly supported the Riverside location, called the site decision necessary.

“All one has to do is go down to our shelter to see how urgent it is,” he said of the existing facility on Oxford Street, which was built 30 years ago.

Although no public comment was taken at Monday’s meeting, residents and service providers flooded council chambers June 3 to express concern about placing the shelter in the Riverton neighborhood, in part due to its distance to other social services.

Despite the distance, Councilor Jill Duson said the Riverside site is “the best location” to provide a new model of a more holistic approach to homeless services.

“For me, the Riverside location is the right choice,” she said.

Although he initially wanted to see a working group set up to look into city homeless services and had concerns with the two locations, Councilor Spencer Thibodeau voted to support the Riverside site, as long as the Health and Human Services Committee has the policy discussion.

“I don’t see any other option than moving forward with one of the sites we have,” Thibodeau said. “To that end, I do believe from a policy perspective, based on the feedback we’ve received from the neighborhoods, there should be a broad public discussion about the population served. I believe from my discussion with the HHS chairwoman, she will work diligently in executing a policy discussion to bring back to us.”

The waterfront zoning amendments approved by the council were recommended by the city’s Waterfront Working Group, which was formed this year in response to development pressure on the commercial fishing industry.

The change returns a non-marine use overlay zone on Commercial Street from 150 to 125 feet. An exception is Long Wharf, where the reduction is to 300 feet from 500 feet.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter:@mkelleynews

Portland City Councilor Belinda Ray advocates Monday for placing the city’s next homeless shelter at 654 Riverside St. The council approved the decision in a 5-4 vote.

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