SOUTH PORTLAND — The city council discussed the possibility and displayed support of a six-month moratorium on city development in South Portland during a workshop on Sept. 1.

The South Portland Conservation Commission believes a moratorium is necessary as  current land use is inadequate to prevent serious health and environmental harm to residents, Barbara Dee, chair of the commission said.

A moratorium would give a temporary ban on land-use activity or development activity so that municipal officials have time and an opportunity to address issues found, Sally Daggett, a government attorney based in Portland, said.

Statutory requirements for a moratorium are intended to either prevent a shortage or overburden of public facilities that would occur as a result of foreseen development or because municipal ordinances are not adequate in preventing public harm from development, Daggett said. One of these two showings needs to be found.

The moratorium can be in place for 180 days, but the city council can extend the period in order to address and make progress to underlying conditions, she said.

There have been 205 building permits since March and 26 active development projects as of Aug. 31, Dee said. Close to 500 trees in South Portland have been cut down.


“The city council, which represents the community, has begun to demonstrate an enhanced awareness of the city’s environmental needs and is now more willing to use the land bank for environmental initiatives,” she said. “But we’re in a very precarious situation right now, trying to balance open space along with air quality and health needs of the community with an increase of developer projects in the city that has always been a hot-spot for development.”

Milan Nevajda, city planning director, said that he has noticed four key themes in this discussion surrounding a moratorium on development — preservation efforts that are underway for open space, a notion for irreversible loss of open space, the aspect of climate change and associated factors, and a notion of incompatible development and built environments.

“I think it’s important to know this and understand this that a lot of these questions that are coming out are sort of natural at the stage that South Portland is in,” he said.

A look at the city’s comprehensive plan and if it would expose South Portland to potential immediate risk for harm is a natural question that people are beginning to have, Nevajda said.

The council spoke mostly in favor of a moratorium and requested that City Manager Scott Morelli return to the council with a proposed ordinance for its consideration.

Councilor Deqa Dhalac was also in favor of a policy that forbids cutting down trees, she said.


The public and residents have shown support for addressing environmental, open space, and climate change concerns, Councilor April Carrichio said. She feels that the moratorium will help the city work on issues that may be moving too quickly.

“I’d like to see some conversation or action on bringing people together and talking about possible land-swaps, possible purchases, possible creative conversations on how we can meet the needs of the community and how we can meet our commitments to just remain honorable to everyone who operates in the city,” she said.

Councilor Claude Morgan said he believes a moratorium should have a city-wide vocation. The city council should also be ready to provide compensation.

“Remember here that folks can be harmed, depending on our decisions,” he said. “So this idea of being creative and a possible land swap, there are folks who have made significant investments already, and if we yank this away from them, in my book that’s a taking, and a taking requires compensation. If we took over the projects or the woods through eminent domain, we still must compensate the owner with fair market value.”

About 20 residents and members of the public spoke during the comment portion of the workshop.

Elizabeth Frazier, who is with the Maine Real Estate and Development Association, said that she had some concerns that the council should consider before making a decision on the moratorium that involve a negative impact on the economy “at a time where we can least afford it.” There is also a possibility that the problems could be addressed through other means, with sufficient input from all stakeholders, including developers.


Richard Rottkov, president of the South Portland Land Trust, spoke in favor of the moratorium.

“I’m personally not opposed to all development,” he said. “I’m opposed to development in forests, especially forests in South Portland.”

From talking to neighbors, Andrew Fersch, resident of Bonnybriar Road in South Portland, said that he’s found a huge amount of concern about the air quality and the availability of open and green space in the city in general.

“Everyone that I’ve talked to wants to protect these natural spaces and a moratorium would give the time to figure out what needs to be done and what can be done to protect open space in the city,” he said.

Tom Blake, former mayor of South Portland, said that the city has used moratoriums before and has “yet to see one fail.”

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