City Council Approves Rezoning of Williston-West Church; Three Oppposing Councilors Struggle to Justify Bias

By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,159)

The City Council voted, 6 to 3, to approve the rezoning of the former Williston West Church on the West End of Portland. That approval permits Dr. Frank Monsour, an Australian surgeon, to transform the historic parish hall into offices for up to fourteen employees of his start-up medical software computer company. The second floor will contain residential facilities. The vote was taken just after 11:30 pm with councilors Anton, Coyne and Leeman voting against the rezoning.

In introductory remarks, Carol Morrisette, chair of the Planning Board said the board found that the proposed reuse of the Church is compatible with the Comprehensive Plan and that it is the best use for the building. Deb Andrews, director, of the Historic Preservation Office, has stated that “residential rehab is not recommended” for this building according to Morrisette. The planning board is requiring an annual compliance report by Dr. Monsour for five years and performance bond is required. Mary Costigan, attorney for the applicant, told the councilors that this proposal “is in basic harmony with the Comprehensive Plan. It’s not an obtrusive or excessive use of the building.”

Fifty people testified before the council in a 4 l/2 hour meeting in which the yeas and nos were evenly divided. Wilmot Schwind accused Greater Landmarks, who has supported the project from the start, of “being paid off by Dr. Monsour.” Hillary Bassett, later denied his charge. Anne Pringle, former city councilor said “he’s a developer and a hard nosed business man. The city staff has seen it as their role to help Monsou.” Attorney Charles Remmell said the “applicant feels he has a right to the rezoning. It will take about 10% off the value of 25 buildings in the west end – costing about $450,000.” And so it continued from the opponents of the rezoning.

The three councilors, John Anton, John Coyne and Cheryl Leeman, who voted against the zoning change had to dig deep into their bag of tricks to come up with justifications for their bias – which did not pass the smirk test.

editor’s note: mhn.com took photos but, regretably they were inadvertently erased!