Portland City Council repeals stay-at-home rules to align with state

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Portland city councilors on May 4 unanimously repealed some provisions of the city’s stay-at-home order to more closely reflect the statewide order by Gov. Janet Mills.

“We know as we go the state’s guidance will come at us in ways we really can’t predict,” Mayor Kate Snyder said.

The council spent several hours on April 27 debating and passing amendments to an extension of the city’s stay-at-home order, highlighted by requiring some workers to wear masks.

But on April 28 Mills announced a plan to slowly start reopening the state economy. Almost immediately after Mills’ announcement, Snyder said, the city started to devise a response that would suspend the local order in favor of the state guidance.

She said officials communicated with local barbershops, hair salons, pet groomers, and other businesses that would have been allowed to contemplate reopening under the state order and let those businesses know they could pursue that in the city.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder: “Portland businesses (their owners and employees) ought to have the opportunities afforded Maine business owners and employees in light of the governor’s announcement.”

“People had a few days to get their head around the governor’s guidance,” Snyder said.

She said the city was in a good position since councilors were meeting a few days after the governor’s order.

Monday’s action retains some portions of the city’s prior order, including restrictions on off-leash dogs on city property. Residents are required to keep dogs on leashes on public property from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Another program left in place was an incentive for owners of short-term rental properties to provide longer-term housing to low-income residents who participate in programs like Section 8 or General Assistance. Owners who show they have switched would get a $1,000 rebate from the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

Mills has outlined a four-stage plan to reopen the state’s economy, beginning this month with businesses that prove they can operate while still protecting the public health. A second phase is tentatively slated to begin in June.

Councilors had already been moving to have the city’s stay-at-home order more closely mirror the state’s by easing construction regulations during the coronavirus pandemic and allowing nonessential businesses to operate through no-contact means to offer services like shipping, delivery, and curbside pickup.

The city previously received criticism when it released an information sheet indicating nonessential businesses could not offer curbside pickup and similar services. Councilors later walked that back during an emergency workshop.

“Portland businesses (their owners and employees) ought to have the opportunities afforded Maine business owners and employees in light of the governor’s announcement,” Snyder said in a press release ahead of Monday’s meeting. “Recognizing that changes and updated guidance from the state could be daily throughout Stages 1, 2, 3, and beyond, it would be impossible to respond within a local order.”

Councilors praised Snyder and city staff for working so quickly to adapt the city order in light of the governor’s announcement.

“The mayor’s plan was well thought out from the beginning,” Councilor Tae Chong said.

Chong also said while there are still many unknowns about the virus, as long as the people of Portland remain calm and compassionate, they would get through this hardship.

The repeal order passed unanimously, with considerably less discussion than the previous week’s discussion on the stay-at-home order.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau asked if there were any updates about Merrill Auditorium, which has not had programming during the pandemic.

City Manager Jon Jennings said there are no shows booked for the Merrill, per the governor’s order. However, he said there have been discussions regarding the Portland Symphony Orchestra being able to do some programming, particularly once the winter holiday season arrives.

“A lot has to happen between now and then,” Jennings said.

(Courtesy National Institute on Drug Abuse)

Councilors to vote May 18 on marijuana licensing

City Councilors workshopped marijuana business licensing standards Monday, May 4, ahead of a planned May 18 vote to establish a license lottery.

Anne Torregrossa, associate corporation counsel for the city, said the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy has been accepting applications for adult-use marijuana businesses, and has issued conditional licenses to some Portland businesses.

Torregrossa said these include 12 stores, three cultivation facilities and two manufacturing facilities. But these businesses can’t begin operating until the city OKs their licenses and the applications go back to the OMP for final approval.

She said there are 20 medical cultivation facilities, five manufacturing, three stores and one testing facility in Portland, all with some kind of medical permit. She also said that based on conversations, the city knows many of these medical businesses would like to get into the adult-use market.

Torregrossa said new language will require an adult-use business to have a community relations liaison, even if that is just the business owner. She said this can help in the event neighboring residents have concerns, and it would be easier for the business to interact directly with those residents instead of the city. Retail operations will have to have a 250-foot buffer between stores, to avoid customer clustering outside.

She said every business will also be required to have plans for security, waste disposal, and odor mitigation.

The city ordinance caps total licenses – adult-use and medical – at 20. Torregrossa said there are three existing medical stores that would be grandfathered, so if they decide to remain only medical and did not enter the license lottery, there would be a total of 23 businesses.

However, if these medical businesses choose to enter the lottery, there is no guarantee they would receive adult-use retail licenses.

Torregrossa said the five categories of licenses are retail, which includes adult-use and medical; cultivation facilities; manufacturing; testing, and small-scale medical operations with fewer than five patients.

— Colin Ellis