The Open Space Implementation Committee in South Portland was set to make a series of recommendations to the City Council this week, including a new ordinance that would prohibit the sale of high priority, so-called Tier 1 parcels, such as Bug Light and Mill Creek parks. In all there are 59 Tier 1 sites, which represents nearly 30% of the city’s open space. Courtesy / City of South Portland

SOUTH PORTLAND — A committee charged to help implement the city’s new Open Space Plan is calling for strong protections for high priority, city-owned lands – including Bug Light Park – and creating new open space districts to encourage conservation.

The Open Space Implementation Committee was set to give a presentation to the council on Thursday, after The Forecaster’s deadline.

In a memo to the council, City Manager Scott Morelli supported the majority of recommendations, but urged councilors to carefully consider a proposal to turn over conservation easements to the South Portland Land Trust. Morelli argued that there’s an unknown financial burden in the easement idea, and also said the city would be turning over some of its most cherished open spaces to a private entity that has no accountability to either the city or its residents.

He said the South Portland Land Trust has indicated it would need additional staff and resources to administer the conservation easements and that’s an expense the organization would look to the city to cover.

In addition, Morelli said with a conservation easement in place, even if residents or all seven councilors wanted to do something with one of these properties, “they would be unable to do so and would be beholden to the (land trust) in order to do anything with the land.”

“There are other, less costly and intrusive methods of protection,” he added.

During the past six months, the Open Space Implementation Committee has created a priority rating system for city-owned land and drafted ordinance language that would create new Open Space and Parks districts. The committee also drafted an ordinance that would prohibit the sale of significant so-called Tier 1 property, such as Mill Creek Park and Wainwright Fields. In addition, the group outlined the creation a new permanent Open Space Acquisition Committee.

In all, the implementation committee identified 59 Tier 1 parcels, which make up nearly 30% of the open space in the city.

There are 91 Tier 2 properties, which the committee designated as parcels with the potential to be open space, or could prompt an outcry if sold for development without a “rigorous public comment process,” according to the materials provided to the council. These sites represent just over 45% of open space in the city.

Tier 3 properties are those that are unsuitable for development based on their size, shape, location or other restrictions, according to the committee. There are 49 such properties that make up just over 24% of open space.

The committee evaluated all the city-owned property based on a series of criteria that included the parcel size, its potential for connectivity or access to other open space or special resources, its habitat or ecological value, its proximity to the waterfront, recreational value and how it could contribute to South Portland’s resiliency to climate impacts.

Thursday’s presentation by the Open Space Implementation Committee was held in a non-voting workshop session following the regular meeting. It’s unclear when the recommendations would come before the council for public input or a final vote.

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