Portland City Council keeps Riverside shelter plan on track

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The Portland City Council on Monday agreed to pay a developer $250,000 to design a proposed 200-bed shelter on Riverside Street, despite opposition from citizens seeking a November referendum that could block the project.

City councilors voted 6-3, with Councilors Pious Ali, April Fournier, and Andrew Zarro opposed, for a second agreement that will have Developers Collaborative proceed with design, financing, and land use approvals for the proposed Housing Services Center.

Portland is negotiating with Developers Collaborative for construction of a 200-bed shelter off Riverside Street while a referendum that would restrict new shelters heads to a November vote. (Courtesy city of Portland)

The vote followed more than two hours of discussion, including comments from several residents who oppose the project over its size, location, and the services it will provide.

The council also postponed setting a date for the referendum backed by Smaller Shelters for Portland, aimed at derailing the project by limiting the size of new city shelters to 50 beds. Instead, councilors will discuss the referendum in a workshop on Monday, July 26, and decide if the city will offer a competing ballot proposal; they will vote to set the referendum date at their Aug. 23 meeting. 

A remote neighborhood meeting to discuss the Riverside Shelter will also be held July 26, and a Planning Board workshop will take place the following day at 4:30 p.m. City staff previously said they believe the project can avoid being stopped by the referendum as long as it receives final Planning Board approval at least 45 days prior to Election Day, Nov. 2.

A motion by Councilor Mark Dion to postpone the vote on the developer agreement to Aug. 23, after the council workshop, failed on Monday.

Opponents of the project said the proposed design is too large and would not provide adequate privacy or services.

Congress Street resident Justin Beth advocated postponing the second letter agreement until after a vote on the citizen initiative.

“Portlanders both housed and unhoused are demanding that we be heard on this issue at the ballot box,” Beth said.

Representatives of some community organizations, however, spoke in favor of the project, including Ben Strick, director of adult behavioral health at Spurwink Services.

Strick called Portland’s existing homeless facilities “insufficient to meet current demand,” and said the new building would allow more collaboration between community providers and generate better outcomes.

Councilor Fournier spoke in favor of postponing the vote on the second agreement until after Monday’s workshop to allow further discussion, and Councilor Zarro agreed.

Councilor Belinda Ray, however, said postponing the vote on the agreement would further delay a process that has been delayed “more than five times” in the last four years, and noted the city has been trying to replace the Oxford Street homeless shelter for about a decade.

“When we delay this process it means that more people spend more nights without adequate shelter, (and) without a place where they will get the services that will place them in permanent housing,” Ray said.

City adopts fees for public EV charging stations

Owners of electric cars will now be charged $1.05 per kilowatt-hour, with a 25-cent hourly overstay fee, for using any of the city’s seven electric vehicle charging stations.

The Portland City Council unanimously approved the fee structure on July 19. According to a memo prepared for councilors, the fees will allow the city to continue to provide public EV charging stations without subsidizing the program.

The funds will cover the cost of providing electricity, warranty coverage, and network fees for financial transactions related to the use of the chargers. The overstay fee is to discourage owners from parking at charging stations after their vehicles are fully charged.

Also Monday, the council unanimously adopted a development program for Portland Downtown and voted to continue to allow outdoor dining and retail sales in their current form without additional fees until Nov. 1

Troy Moon, sustainability coordinator for the city, said the overstay fee will apply only after a vehicle is fully charged, including if the vehicle is parked after 6 p.m. There will be a 10-minute grace period for moving the vehicle once it is charged, he added, and said a smartphone app will alert the owner when the vehicle is fully charged.

Councilor Belinda Ray advocated for an hourly limit on the electric chargers. 

“I think we want as many people as possible to be able to use this so that they can come get as much charge as they can and then continue on their way,” she said. “I just don’t want to see people parked at these for 24 hours if their car is not charging.”

City Manager Jon Jennings said the city has issued a request for proposals to create more electric infrastructure, part of a goal to prioritize the electrification of transportation in Portland.

— Elizabeth Clemente

Candidates trickle in for City Council, School Board elections

With just over a month until nomination papers are due, there doesn’t seem to be nearly the same excitement for the fall City Council and School Board elections that there was for Portland’s recent Charter Commission election.

There are three seats at stake on each body in the Nov. 2 election, but the number of potential candidates who have taken out papers hasn’t changed since papers became available June 28.

Two potential candidates have taken out papers in the at-large City Council race to replace retiring City Councilor Nick Mavodones: Roberto Rodriguez, currently on the School Board and its former chair, announced his candidacy several weeks ago, and Travis Curran, who previously ran for mayor in 2019, has also taken out papers. Curran also took out papers to run for the Charter Commission, but never returned them.

The race with the most interest so far is for the District 1 seat on the council, now held by City Councilor Belinda Ray, who is stepping down after two terms. Papers have been taken out by School Board member and former Chair Anna Trevorrow; David Aceto, co-owner of Arcadia National Bar; Bayside Neighborhood Association President Sarah Michniewicz; Spencer Rust, and Mark Foster.

No candidates have taken out papers for the District 2 seat on the council, where the incumbent is City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau.

Incumbent and former School Board Chair Sarah Thompson has taken out papers for reelection to her at-large seat on the board, along with Nyalat Biliew, who unsuccessfully ran for School Board last fall.

School Board Chair Emily Figdor has taken out papers to run for her District 2 seat again, and Abusana “Micky” Bondo is the only person who has taken out papers for the District 1 seat she now holds.

Charles Shattuck-Heidorn has taken out papers for a five-year term on the Portland Water District Board of Trustees, and Jerzy Sylvester has taken out papers for one of three available seats on the Peaks Island Council.

The City Council, School Board, and Peaks Island Council seats have three-year terms. The water district term is five years.

Nomination papers can be obtained from the city clerk’s office, Room 24 in the basement of City Hall. Access is from Myrtle Street, and masks are required inside the building. Papers must be returned to City Hall between Aug. 9 and 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 23.

Candidates for district seats must gather at least 75 signatures of registered voters, and no more than 150. For at-large candidates, at least 300 signatures and no more than 500 are required. For the Peaks Island Council, at least 50 signatures and no more than 100 are needed. At least 100 signatures, and no more than 150, are necessary for water district candidates.

Additional information is available from the city clerk’s office: 207-874-8677 or [email protected].

— Colin Ellis

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