By Carol McCracken
After two hours of council discussion, a recess and public comment, the city council last evening voted to authorize the city manager to enter into negotiations with Ocean Properties and adjoining property around the Maine State Pier to redevelop it. Negotiations with Olympia Cos. fell through last year necessitating the approval of this motion. The vote was 7 to 2 – with councilors Donoghue and Marshall voting against the authorization – both had supported Olympia Cos. from the beginning of the process.
About a dozen members of the public testified during the public comment time. Some called for more input from the community concerning the proposed redevelopment put forth by Ocean Properties. Senior planner Bill Needleman, at the request of Major Jill Duson, proposed a three stage process to counter that often heard request from the public. There would be several meetings starting the end of this month with a final summary document to be presented to the city council in February.
Matt Isgro used a more pointed tone which appeared to offend Councilor Nick Mavadones. Isgro said that the pier is “our pier. It’s not Baldacci’s.” (He was referring to the governor’s brother, a principal with Ocean Properties and a member of the team that is in the process of buying the Portland newspapers.) He went on to say that three members of the current council have received money from Ocean Properties which questions their “integrity.” Later, Mavadones said he was not pleased at these pointed comments and said: “We live in a small community. No one is buying anyones’ vote.”
Newcomer Dory Waxman has been under increasing pressure to recuse herself from the process since she is a former employee of Ocean Properties. Waxman said she was charged with getting the message out to the public which she did by setting up meetings – about 25 of them she said. However, she stood her ground and refused to recuse herself saying: “I don’t believe I have any conflict of interest.”
Councilor Marshall cited that part of his reason for voting against this motion was his concern for the way in which Ocean Properties often conducts its business. He quoted one source as saying that OP puts every possible issue it can into litigation. Using this litigious method to resolve disagreements would put the city at a clear financial disadvantage as well as stretching legal personnel employed by the city currently. Councilor Marshall’s concern was that Portland not be put in this no-win position. He called for steps to be taken in the contract to insure this not occur. Councilor Donoghue said that there simply is not enough time for adequate input in the three step process as proposed by Mayor Jill Duson.
The City Council has apparently not yet instructed the legal department whether or not to file a lawsuit against the State to determine who owns the sea bed under the Pier. Failure to determine who has title to it was the reason given for Olympia Cos. withdrawal from the redevelopment of the MSP last year. Last year city attorney Gary Wood stated that a lawsuit against the state would be filed this month and that no outside legal counsel would be required to pursue the suit.