By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,528)
By a vote of 6 – 3, the City Council voted in favor of the controversial proposed contract to sell 2/3 of Congress Square Plaza to RockBridge Capital for its construction of an events center adjoining the former Eastland Hotel, soon to be a new Westin Hotel. Moments after the vote was taken, a press release was issued by the Friends of Congress Square Park announcing it would be filing a lawsuit against the City “to press its right to file a Citizens’ Initiative.”
Councilwoman Cheryl Leeman proposed three amendments to the contract with two of them passing. The first required that the approvals of the planning board and the historic preservation board be obtained before the property closed. The other required that RockBridge pay for the cost of transporting the city’s clock to its future home, when that location has been determined by the city. The three voting in opposition to the sale were the Green councilors: Anton, Donoghue and Marshall.
“Tonight’s vote is an offensive move on the Portland’s park system,” said Frank Turek, President of the Friends of Congress Square Park, in a press release issued immediately following the vote in city council chambers tonight. The Friends consider the City’s rejection of the petition a violation of its First Amendment free speech rights. “We do not take this action lightly,” said Turek. “The city should be working with us to protect our parks, not against us. The attempt to block our right to petition is in lock-step with the vote tonight to sell a vital downtown public open space. The City is forcing our hand….”
The petition referred to above was rejected by the city’s Corporation Counsel on Friday, September 13th. It was an amendment to the current Land Bank law which would have made it more dfficult to sell public parks to private developers. The petition was to have put the matter to a public vote in a referendum later this year, presumably. The Friends of Deering Oaks did not vote to support the petition and the Public Parks Commission wants more information before it could decide whether or not to support it.
Friends attorney Robert H. Levin will be co-counseling with Sarah M. McDaniel, a litigator with Maine Land Law, LLCP.P.A. An outline of the Friends’ bassis for the lawsit can be fond in a letter to Corporation Counsel , posted online at http://congresssquarepark.org/letter-to-corporationcounsel/
There was a police presence at city council chambers this evening as well as two vehicles waiting outside city hall should they be needed. Early on in the proceedings, Erika Elkins was arrested by Chief Michael Sauschuck, for criminal trespassing. She refused to leave the building insisting that she be given an opportunity to make a public pitch to purchase the Plaza from RockBridge. Elkins wanted to return it to the people of Portland. Elkins was escorted out of the chambers by a police officer.