SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors on July 9 accepted a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remediate waterfront properties.

Councilors also discussed distances and buffers related to the growing number of marijuana establishments in the city.

The Brownfields Assessment Grant, which was accepted unanimously Tuesday with Councilor Kate Lewis absent, will go toward environmental assessments of commercial industrial properties. Two-thirds of the money will be used to address hazardous substances; $100,000 will be used for petroleum.

The program’s four key tasks include forming a steering committee; community outreach and engagement; environmental assessments, and cleanup and planning for re-use.

Phase I assessment includes researching the history of the properties to see if there is reasonable suspicion for contamination. Phase II assessment involves testing soil and other areas of contamination to gauge the damage.

“The intent of these funds are to help property owners and former industrial sites,” Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny said. “Funds can’t be used in a situation where a property owner has contaminated the site. This is addressing an issue of historic properties.”

Reny said the plan includes building a comprehensive inventory of potential sites, hopefully a dozen or more, and then inviting the public to participate. He said the city hopes by “dangling the carrot of grant money” in front of residents, there will be higher interest in the program.

When asked which properties would be eligible, Reny said properties on the waterfront where historic shipbuilding and oil pollution have been most prevalent are most likely.

Mayor Claude Morgan was in full support of accepting the grant funds, but expressed concern some residents wouldn’t see the incentive in getting the evaluation if they didn’t intend to sell their property. Reny noted that if someone already intends to sell or redevelop, they will do their due diligence and go through the process.

“This program is not designed for the individual property owner that won’t do anything with their property,” Reny said. “If you want to sell your property, the stones will be unturned.”

The grant funds won’t be available until October, Reny said, and any initial steps will be completed through the remainder of 2019, with a steering committee likely to be formed in the fall.

Marijuana establishments

In a workshop Tuesday, councilors discussed increasing the minimum distance required between marijuana stores.

Planning Director Tex Haeuser also proposed additional revisions to the adult use marijuana ordinance, suggesting changes to eliminate shops in mixed-use buildings and a plan to monitor odor control.

Currently, the setback between stores is 300 feet; councilors discussed changing it to 500 feet, 750 feet or as much as 1,000 feet. Haeuser warned if the distance is set to 1,000 feet, marijuana establishments will be far and few between.

The Planning Board previously approved two recreational facilities, Sea Weed Co. at 185 Running Hill Road and another shop on 27 Ocean St. in Knightville. Four medical marijuana shops have also been approved: Dirigo Naturals, Wellness Connection, Grass Monkey Medical Storefront and Beach Boys Cannabis.

One unnamed recreational facility application at 343 Gorham Road is still pending authorization, as well as two medical shop applications, Elevate Maine and The Pot Shop.

While all medical marijuana stores can begin operating fairly quickly upon approval from the Planning Board, recreational stores must wait for state regulations to kick in to obtain a state license.

Councilor Deqa Dhalac suggested setting a cap on the total number of licenses, but Reny warned against the idea, saying it would make more sense to address the allowable distance between shops and would take much less effort to implement.

Reny said it may take a few weeks to bring forward an ordinance on distances. Several scenarios will be laid out for City Council, he said, and councilors can make amendments to the proposed ordinance during the first reading.

The South Portland Planning Board has approved two recreational marijuana facilities, Sea Weed Co. at 185 Running Hill Road and another shop at 27 Ocean St. Four medical marijuana shops have also been approved. Authorization for one recreational facility is still pending, along with two medical shops. Courtesy city of South Portland

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