Controversial ‘Housing Replacement Ordinance’ Considered at Housing Committee Meeting; “What Ever Happened To Common Sense in Portland?”

Marcia Frank, of Preble Street Homeless Voices for Justice, Supports Strengthening the current Housing Replacement Ordinance

By Carol McCracken (Post # 364)

Supporters of and those wanting changes to the current housing replacement ordinance gave public comment before the Housing Committee last night at its regular meeting. The ordinance which was adopted by the city in the fall of 2002 has come under criticism recently partly for its impact on the property located at 6 Washington Avenue and owned by Alec Altman. Councilor John Anton is chairman of the Committee.

“It was a fascinating dialogue,” said Penny Littell, director of planning & urban development following the lengthy public comment period. Speaking in support of the ordinance as it currently stands was Marcia Frank, Preble Street Homeless Voices for Justice. Frank said there are weak and confusing parts of the ordinance that need to be made stronger. “By strengthening our ordinance, Portland continues to set the standard in Maine for preserving and maintaining truly affordable housing,” Frank said. James Melan said that the ordinance is “remarkable” and he doesn’t want any changes to it that would lower the money that goes into the fund. Keep the ordinance as is,” he said.

Chris O’Neil, Portland Chamber of Commerce, recommmended that the Committee not set up a system that doesn’t take into account the vagaries of the market and he suggested that the Committee study how other jurisdictions handle the subject. Carleton Winslow, a long-time landlord in Portland asked the pertinent question – “What ever happened to common sense in Portland? The apartaments at 6 Washington Avenue has been vacant for years. The City should have dealt with them sooner.”

Alec Altman had planned to open an upscale Bingas Wingas at 6 Washinton Avenue. In order to do so, Altman intended to eliminate “apartments” from the building that date back to the 50s. Under the city’s current ordinance, Altman owes the city $150,000 since he did not indicate an interest in replace those apartment units elsewhere. Back in 1957, there were plans to include apartments in the Washington Avenue building, but according to Altman, the apartments never materialized. In addition, the building itself had fallen into severe disrepair prompting the city to order its demolition in early November of last year.

Follwing the Committee meeting, Winslow said: “I generally favor the ordinance, but it needs some work. I think there are legal holes in it and I think the city’s record keeping is abysmal. They need to put more resources into record keeping and better inter-departmental communications.”

Please read Post # 330, dated November 18, 2009 for more background info.