Planning Board Votes on Two Motions on Williston West Rezoning For City Council Consideration Next Month; “It’s Not Like This is a Smoke Stack Going in There,” Venne

Land Use Attorney Patrick Venne (R) Makes a Point as David Silk (far left) and Timothy Dean (Middle) Listen

By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,147)

Last night the Planning Board voted on two motions that will be forwarded to the city council for its consideration next month on the controversial application of Dr. Frank Monsour to rezone the historic Williston West Church permitting it to be used as headquarters for his start-up software company. The meeting was at City Council Chambers and lasted from 6 pm – until shortly after 10:00 pm.

Last week the planning board took extensive public comment on the rezoning issue mostly from residents in the affluent West End of Portland – residents who have waged an intense war of words to insure that this idyllic community remain that way in perpetuity. Two board members, Joe Lewis and David Silk, both attorneys, sided with this point of view and did their best to attach as many strings to one motion as possible – possibly making the deal untenable for Dr. Monsour. He has said that if there are too many restrictions placed on his application, he will withdraw his plans for the property.

That motion which was burdened with restrictive amendments was opposed by a vote of 5 – 2. Those supporting the motion with the restrictive amendments were Lewis and Silk. Joe Lewis has been an outspoken critic of the rezoning application since it was first introduced to the planning board earlier this year. Another motion approving the rezoning applicatio with no amendments narrowly passed by four votes – three votes. Martin’s Point executive Bill Hall joined the two attorneys in opposing this motion. The City Council has requested a choice on these issues.

At the core of the many hours of testimony and deliberation of the planning board and the public is whether or not this “repurposing” of the church fits in with the Comprehensive Plan of the City. Silk maintained that the addition of a small office would cause “undue encroachment” to the neighborhood. Land use attorney Patrick Venne said the proposal “is harmonious with the Comprehensive Plan. The neighborhood does not need protection from a small scale office. It’s not like this is a smoke stack going in there.”

Attorney David Silk refused to comment following the meeting saying there had been sufficent testimony and debate to understand his position.

For more background information, please visit Post # 1,142, dated 5/23/12.