2015-03-20 / Front Page

Licensing to change

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — New rules are coming down the pike for all businesses in South Portland that require a city license.

Initially proposed to combat ongoing crime and behavioral issues at a cluster of motels along Main Street, the new requirements — which update standards for denial, suspension or revocation of a license — will now apply to all “problem licensees.”

The new rules, approved by the council at a March 9 workshop, now require review by several city departments, including fire, police, health, code enforcement, finance, water and public works, not previously required to get or renew licenses for a host of business concerns.

The new rules allow for revocation of a license to operate based on virtually any violation of law or ordinance, or for “repeated incidents of record,” that take place “on or in the vicinity of the licensed premises caused by persons patronizing, visiting or employed” by the business.

“I think these gives us some teeth so we can do something about situations, not just in hotels and motels, but throughout the city,” Councilor Maxine Beecher said.

“We’ve tried to write some language that makes clear the stick to the city does hold when it absolutely needs to, but this is not there to punish arbitrarily or capriciously,” said Councilor Claude Morgan.

Only two businesses were represented at the March 9 workshop.

Evanthea Spanos, owner of the Pine Haven Motel at 857 Main St., objected to provisions in the proposed ordinance change that would make her responsible for the behavior of her guests.

“[A business] can only be held accountable for what it can control,” she said.

“I’d also like to know what is meant by ‘incidents of record,’” she said. “I would hope it would mean incidents that are not just allegations but that have been verified by the police or other city officials.”

Meanwhile, Peter Daigle, now in his ninth month as manager of the Best Western Merry Manor Inn at 700 Main St., said he hopes he’s not surprised when it comes time for license renewal.

“The one concern that I have is that communication be kept open. We don’t want to come back to renew our license and hear [of] a litany of calls,” he said. “If there’s a problem in our hotel, we’d like to solve that problem immediately.”

Mayor Linda Cohen promised that would be the case, citing language in the proposal that allows for a voluntary sit-down with city officials before the city clerk pulls or prepares refused renewal of a license.

“Just as you would never surprise an employee with something at their evaluation that you hadn’t discussed with them during the year, you don’t surprise the licensee with something and spring it on them when their license comes up for renewal,” she said.

“I think the language here is good,” said Councilor Patti Smith. “To me it’s like a path of clarity. It says, this is the accountability I need to hold as a business and if not, this is what happens next. But if we were to create a hardship in someone else’s eyes, they could go to Superior Court, so there’s a path of clarity all the way through the process, and I think that’s what people want.”

The new rules are expected to go to regular council sessions in April for first and second readings, as well as a public hearing, before final passage.

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