I am not feeling good about the updating of the Portland land use code, known as ReCode Portland. Citizen frustration and anger about this process have been stated time and again, and I think we should consider hitting the pause button. A disconnect clearly exists between what has been presented so far and what many of us thought ReCode was going to be. City staff have been clear and upfront that their goal is to retain the current code, and that there will be no policy changes.   

Zoning is not sexy and frankly bores most people to death. But anyone can understand that something is perverse when the largest addition to the code is 40-plus signage definitions.

It has always been understood that ReCode would be a form-based code, modeled after the India Street zone, where proposed development is judged more on how it looks than on how it will be used. India Street was the test and template and appears to be working just fine.

The land use code is supposed to be the mechanism that allows us the ability to achieve the goals in the Portland comprehensive plan. The only way to accomplish that is through policy changes. Our new comprehensive plan is a well-thought-out and well-written document. Its major tenet is to be open to and flexible about repurposing our land for housing. All around us this is going on: Rock Row and the new green housing-apartment project in Westbrook; Biddeford’s mill district; The Downs in Scarborough, and Brunswick Landing. These projects all are repurposing land and making very overt moves to attract Portland residents with lower housing costs and a friendlier business environment.

There is a need to look at how to make all of the zones better, based upon a realistic examination of what is going on in each zone. But the view has to be from the ground and more expansive than to date.

You have to know the land. Where is the land? How much is private versus public? What is its condition? What are our real future land use needs? Those are questions that need to be answered and should be in this package. We need to know what is working and what is not.


Many of the zone definitions no longer accurately describe what is going on in those zones. A perfect example is the East Bayside beer area. Food is what we are all about, yet ReCode still keeps restaurants, retail and housing out of the area. Opening East Bayside to these uses is the most low-hanging fruit and what a positive and progressive land use code is all about. The area is where a lot of people would like to live and work.

Trying to do this work solely in house without outside help from people who have substantial zoning experience keeps the process from getting real-life feedback on how the current zoning has affected land use. A system of one-way comments or feedback does not get us to any meaningful dialogue.

We need access to more land, and that can only come through policy changes in the code. New housing means more jobs, more business and more revenue. We need 1,500 housing units right now, and we need to expand our population by 5,000. Black Lives Matter has many goals to work on, but it starts with housing security. We cannot continue to have people struggling just to get a roof over their head.

I am urging the entire council to become more fully engaged in this process. I believe that a lot of the information that the council gets is slanted, incorrect and just plain old. Most of the acrimony in this town can be traced to our land use code and how it affects residents. We need the council to be firmly committed to a fair land use code that expands housing and economic security citywide.

We are about to be hit with a tsunami of lower revenue, higher taxes and a housing shortage. We need a land use code that respects the past, but does not take us back there.

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