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Portland Defeats 'Scenic View' Ordinance

Tom Porter
Question 2 opponents at their election night party at 58 Fore St.

PORTLAND, Maine — Opponents of Question 2 in the city are celebrating victory Wednesday morning after soundly defeating the so-called "scenic view" ordinance.

The local ballot initiative was designed to protect Maine's biggest city from runaway development and preserve some of Portland's waterfront vistas.

The opponents said it would stifle economic development and the sorely needed construction of new housing.

The No on 2 campaign held their election night gathering at 58 Fore St., the 10-acre waterfront site where planned development, supporters say, would give Portland a $200 million boost. These plans, however, sparked the community opposition that led to the crafting of Question 2.

But with that proposal now defeated, developer Jim Brady says the project is a step closer to becoming a reality.

"There's a lot of planning still to do, this is one of many steps toward ultimately this project coming to fruition," he says.

Nevertheless, Brady has big plans for the site, including a 400-unit apartment complex.

"We would envision this site having a mix of residential uses, commercial uses, retail uses, parking as well, so a number of variety of different uses that activates the space," he says.

Credit Tom Porter / MPBN
Jim Brady

"This is a victory about what the future hold for all of us, it's very exciting," says Lisa Whited, co-chair of the Portland's Future PAC, which has led the opposition to Question 2. "When people read the ordinance and understood the issues and how it was presented, they could see that it was going to halt some of the things that our city needs: We need more housing, more low-income housing, we need to have more business come here.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Question 2 opponents picked up support from a number of different groups, including the regional chamber, labor unions, the AARP, advocates for immigrants and the homeless, as well as affordable housing developers.

"For us doing affordable housing to not have to get over this hurdle that this referendum was proposing, it really was a scary hurdle," says Dana Totman, CEO of Avesta Housing, a nonprofit developer of affordable accommodation.

Credit Tom Porter / MPBN
A No on 2 campaign sign.

He says strict planning rules are already adhered to, and he was worried that the scenic view ordinance could have held back the construction of much-needed low-income housing.

"We think sometimes people might object to affordable housing for a variety of reasons, and they might have frankly used the view protection as a convenient way to thwart our affordable housing development," he says.

Totman says he doesn't disagree with everything that Question 2 proposes, however: he was, for example, in a favor of the plan to codify the zoning process, which would require developers to state their intention with a project when requesting a zone change, something he says Avesta already does.

"That part made sense," Totman says.

Credit Tom Porter / MPBN
Anne Rand in April.

Question 2 supporters meanwhile say they were fighting an uphill battle from the start.

"Question 2 has been a very difficult campaign for a couple of reasons," says Anne Rand with the group Save the Soul of Portland, which launched the ballot initiative.

The first, she say, is financial.

"We were outspent by $200,000 to about $27,000," she says. "Unfortunately money talks in these elections."

The other reason is that her opponents have avoided any kind of direct debate, something which she says would have given Question 2 supporters the chance to get their point across.

Rand says her opponents have overstated the threat to development posed by Question 2, and are mistaken in claiming the measure will enable individuals to obstruct development projects, big or small, because they ruin a private view.

Credit Tom Porter / MPBN
A Yes on 2 campaign sign.

Question 2, she says, was drawn up out of concern that Portland councilors give developers too much of a free hand.

Despite the defeat, Rand says she and her colleagues will keep a close eye on city hall with regard to future development plans.

"We're going to become serial city hall watchers," she says.

Portlanders rejected Question 2 with a vote of 63 percent to 37 percent.