By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,518)
Late this morning Frank Turek, President of the Friends of Congress Square Plaza and the group’s attorney Robert H. Levin, filed a petition with the city clerk’s office intended to prevent this controversial piece of property from being sold by the city to RockBridge Capital for construction of an events center adjacent to the new Westin Hotel: formerly the Eastland Hotel. The proposed amendment to the Land Bank Law, if passed by voters in November, would also make it more difficult for other parks in the city to be sold as well.
The city clerk’s office has until Friday, September 13th to verify the ten signatures on the petition filed just before 11 am. today. That includes a review by the city’s legal department for flaws, which may in fact exist. Following the city’s approval, the clerk’s office will prepare the petition(s) that the Friends of Congress Square Plaza will use to gather 1,500 signatures from registered voters. That will enable an amendment to the Land Bank Law to be placed on the November ballot. If passed by Portland voters, the amendment will be retroactive to today. Most significantly, if the city council votes in favor of selling the Plaza to RockBridge Capital on Monday, September 9, as is scheduled, that vote will not go into effect, according to Levin. Levin, Turek and city corporation counsel met on Wednesday and resolved this issue, according to Levin. Levin is a “heavily discounted” attorney who lives on Munjoy Hill.
At a press conference this morning at 10 am at Lincoln Park, Turek said that the Land Bank Law, passed in 1999, protects “natural and undeveloped properties owned by the City from sale or development.” In other words, the Law does not apply to parks and plazas. The amendment to the Law, includes 35 additional parks – all over the city. Some of them are: Ft. Gorges, Fort Sumner Park, the Eastern Promenade Park, East End Beach. Fort Allen Park and Lincoln Park – to name a few of them on the east end of Portland. These spaces fall into a new catgegory for the Land Bank category, called “urban open public spaces.” Making it more difficult to pass such a deal, more stringent rules regarding voting would be implemented. A sale would require Land Bank Commission approval, and either a 6-member vote by the City Council and a municipal election or an 8-member approval vote by the City Council. Turek said he became aware of this omission of parks in the Law about six months ago, but it was Levin who said an amendment could be added to correct that omission.
More immediately, however, the filing of the petition today comes just prior to the city council’s anticipated vote Monday, September 9th on whether or not to approve the sale of the Congress Square Plaza to RockBridge for its construction of an events center. As stated above, Levin said this filing would in effect “stay” that positive decision – dragging the process out even longer than it has already has been.
Diane Davison, executive director, Friends of the Eastern Promenade has been asked if she supports this proposed amendment that could affect the Eastern Promenade. So far, there has been no response from her. Reportedly, she spoke enthusiastically to Rob Levin of the proposed amendment.