YARMOUTH — Arguing that circumstances have changed since they last looked at the issue, the Town Council rejected a proposal to donate $12,000 to area organizations helping the wave of asylum-seekers who arrived in Portland this summer.

However, during its July 25 meeting the council did support a resolution that calls on the town to address the need for emergency housing , not just for those newly arrived in Maine, but for those already here who are suffering from either short- or long-term homelessness.

In addition, the council agreed to change the zoning in the Rural Residential district to allow a whiskey storage barn to be built on a 7-acre plot off Granite Street, which was requested by Ian Michaud, co-owner of Portland-based Liquid Riot Bottling Co.

In approving the zone change, councilors said they supported Michaud’s plans, but wanted to make sure they were not opening the door to any unintended consequences, particularly for more active storage of other agriculture-related products.

A move by Councilor Richard Plourde to limit the zone change to distilled beverages was rejected, but councilors did agree on a compromise that defined an agricultural product as being raw or unprocessed crops, as well as distilled beverages.

In explaining his reasoning, Plourde said while “I absolutely support the applicant, I’m concerned this has morphed into something more, so I do feel we need to do what we can to shape the amending around a single use. I think we should limit this to the scope that the applicant is asking for. I think we really have to be cognizant of what we’re allowing and I want to be as restrictive as possible.”

In changing the zone, councilors also required any agriculture-related use to go through major site plan and special exception approval before the Planning Board. This week Michaud said he’s unsure how long the site plan process will take.

Councilors also agreed to impose some design standards, an issue pushed by Councilor Tim Shannon, and any structure built under the new zoning must also reflect the “rural, agricultural character” of the district if the building can be seen from the street.

Michaud told councilors last week he had no problem complying with the aesthetic requirements and said, “We live in a community with a great historic aspect and I don’t want to build anything that’s out of character.”

Homelessness

Plourde was the only councilor who voted against the resolution addressing homelessness. He was also among the majority who voted against donating town funds to support asylum-seekers.

He said since the council first addressed these issues at its July 9 meeting, Gov. Janet Mills approved measures at the state level that eased restrictions on providing general assistance to asylees, and the city of Portland received about $900,000 in donations to help it offset the costs associated with operating an emergency shelter at the Portland Expo.

Plourde said individual Yarmouth residents could decide whether to donate time, funds or materials directly to asylum-seekers or the agencies that assist them, but it wasn’t a decision the council should make on behalf of others.

Councilor Andrew Kittredge agreed, saying, “I’ve thought long and hard about this, but I don’t see that it’s appropriate to give Yarmouth taxpayer dollars to what are really state and national issues.”

Council Chairman Randall Bates said he also couldn’t support giving $12,000 out of the Yarmouth Housing Assistance Fund to assist asylum-seekers, but did say, “I hope the town takes (the homelessness resolution) completely to heart and that we’ll pay it more than lip service.”

Councilor Meghan Casey had initiated the discussion about passing a resolution and donating funds to agencies that are helping the asylum-seekers.

At the July 25 meeting she argued that the term “neighbor” should go beyond just the person who lives next door or in the same community. She also said asylum-seekers are in the U.S. legally and “have a right to be here.” Casey further said supporting those fleeing from their home countries should be “a burden that we all share,” and the costs shouldn’t just fall on urban centers such as Portland and Lewiston.

She suggested a $12,000 donation to be divided equally between the Greater Portland Council of Governments, The Opportunity Alliance, and the Preble Street Resource Center.

Casey got support from Shannon and Councilor April Humphrey, but the motion ultimately failed.

 


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