The Odd Fellows Block, left, and Chapman Block at Woodfords Corner are two of the five Forest Avenue properties the City Council decided should be preserved through the historic preservation ordinance. File photo

PORTLAND — The City Council Monday closed the books on two topics it had been debating for much of 2019: a ban on the distribution of plastic straws and stirrers throughout the city and the designation of historic landmarks on the Forest Avenue corridor.

The ban on distribution of plastic straws, stirrers and splash sticks, effective April 1, 2020, was proposed by Councilor Brian Batson to reduce the amount of single use plastics that end up in the ocean impacting marine life. An estimated 100,000 plastic straws are used in Portland every day.

Surfrider Foundation volunteer and Portland resident Adam Copeland urges the council Oct. 21 to pass a measure to ban plastic straws in the city. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Plastic straws will be available upon request until Jan. 1, 2021, but after that, restaurants and other food and drink establishments will be prohibited from providing patrons with a plastic straw unless they physically require one.

Pre-packaged drinks with straws, such as juice boxes, can still be sold and bulk packages of straws will still be available at grocery stores. Medical and dental offices will still be able to use plastic straws and patrons will be able to bring straws (plastic or otherwise) with them to restaurants, which will be allowed to offer non-plastic straws.

Katie Hansberry, Maine director for The Humane Society of the United States, said the ban is needed to keep plastic out of the environment where it can “entangle wildlife” or be mistaken for food.

“If we don’t take action now, it is estimated by 2050, there will be more plastic than marine life in our oceans,” she said.

Saco resident Mark Reilly, who owns property in the city, didn’t see it the same way, telling councilors they shouldn’t bother regulating plastic straws

“We don’t need you to tell restaurants what to do. Let them take care of what’s best for them,” he said.

Adam Copeland, a volunteer with Surfrider Foundation, an environmental advocacy group,  said he and others from the organization met with a number of restaurant owners over the summer and heard very little opposition.

Boone’s restaurant owner Chris O’Neal said he was neither for or against the plastic straw ban, but said the restaurant has switched back to plastic straws after finding paper straws were not practical.

Nevertheless, O’Neal said, “My restaurant will do whatever you folks tell us we have to do.”

Superintendent Xavier Botana indicated making the switch to non-plastic straws could cost the Portland School District up to $40,000.

HISTORIC DESIGNATIONS

The council designated five, rather than 17, Forest Avenue buildings as historic landmarks under the historic preservation ordinance, and it passed the ban, making Portland the first community in Maine to bar restaurants from providing plastic straws, stirrers and splash sticks to patrons.

The Historic Preservation Board recommended earlier this year that 17 buildings along Forest Avenue from Interstate 295 to Woodfords Corner receive the designation.  Many of the impacted property owners, worried the designation would limit what they can do with their buildings and make rehabbing or updating them more difficult and expensive, appeared before the preservation board and council over the last few months to fight the designation. Acting Planning and Urban Development Director Christine Grimando has said the designation wouldn’t prevent owners from working on their buildings.

In a compromise Monday, Councilor Kimberly Cook moved to designate five buildings – 617, 630, 643-651, 648 and 660 Forest Ave. – around Woodfords Corner and forgo the rest at this time.

Built in 1915, 617 Forest Ave was the home of the A&P Grocery Store and later C.F. Cook and Sons. Built in 1917, 630 Forest Ave. was the Darling-Kidder Motor Car Company. The Odd Fellows Block at 643-651 Forest Ave. was built in 1897 and operated as City Hall when Deering was an independent community. It, like the Chapman Block at 648 Forest Ave., has contained a variety of businesses and serves as the gateway to Woodfords Corner. The current home of Woodfords Food and Beverage at 660 Forest Ave. was the longtime headquarters for the Vallee’s Steak House.

The 17 initial sites selected for the historic status represent “a record of Forest Avenue’s development history, including its era as a streetcar line serving Deering’s new residential neighborhoods around the turn of the century and the decades when it was recognized as Portland’s Auto Row,” according to the city.

“My comfort level is highest with the designations immediately around the Woodfords Corner area. It correlates with the geography. I am less comfortable the closer to (Interstate 295) we get,” Councilor Justin Costa said.

Although she voted in favor of the designations, City Councilor Belinda Ray hoped more properties had been included. She said historic designations help to create a distinctive sense of place that people want to visit and live. Without it, she argued, areas are devoid of interesting architecture.

“The places that people cherish are the places that have been preserved to some extent,” said Ray, who unsuccessfully tried to get 536 Deering Ave. (a former city fire station) and 331 Forest Ave. (the former Hinds Laboratory building designed by John Calvin Stevens in 1920) designated.

 

 

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