2018-03-09 / Community

In the Know

Zone change approved – At its March 6 meeting, the South Portland City Council voted unanimously to move a lot at 780 Broadway from the city’s Residential G zone into the neighboring Limited Business District. The planning board voted unanimously January 9 to recommend the change.

Building owner Andrew Green got planning board permission in May 2016 to put a 2,780-square-foot addition onto the building and received kudos from city councilors at the March 6 meeting for work down to rehab the site. However, Green has had some difficulty attracting tenants to the three-office space created, he said, because the Residential G zone limits signs to 2 square feet. Being able to erect the larger sign allowed in the Limited Business District would not detract from the neighborhood, Green said, because the site is directly across the street from Broadway Variety, which has both a large pylon sign and an electronic reader board.

“We’ve done everything we can to try and improve that corner and the one thing we need now is this one small change,” Green said.

Taxicab license granted – South Portland may soon see its first taxicab service in many years, but the new business better not try to open too soon.

At its March 6 meeting, the city council granted a license to ABC Taxi 2, which has moved to 78 Pleasant St. from its former digs in Portland. The operating license is contingent upon final inspection by the police department of the company’s fleet of five vehicles, some of which are as much as 15 years old. During testimony prior to that vote, company owner Mary Johnson asked for permission to begin dispatching calls from the Pleasant Street site before those inspections are completed, because her radio equipment is already in place and because South Portland’s licensing and inspection process is “more detailed” than similar provisions in Portland, which has resulted in losing “a lot of money” while making the jump across the river.

Although two cabs have already been given the green light, and the full fleet must be reviewed within 10 days, Police Chief Ed Googins said he was not amenable to Johnson’s request, as it essentially asked his department to support a violation of local law.

On behalf of her employees, Johnson also questioned the city’s $25 license fee per driver. Although there are currently no taxis operating out of South Portland, there are 380 cabs based on Portland that pick up and drop off in South Portland, and neither of those drivers, nor those who work for the online ride sharing service Uber are made to be the fee, she said.

While the council did grant the operating license pending the all clear from Googins, it otherwise expressed little sympathy for Johnson.

“This stuff about you don’t like the fees, you don’t like how we regulate things – this may not be the community for you locate in,” said Councilor Claude Morgan. “Tonight may be the night for you to withdraw your application.”

“We have rules in South Portland. If you’ve chosen to move here these are the rules you live by,” said Mayor Linda Cohen.

Others, however, were more supporting, even if they did not seem fit to honor Johnson’s requests.

“They’ve certainly jumped though enough hoops,” said Councilor Maxine Beecher.

Taxi fares amended – Given the recent licensing of the first taxi cab service in many years to base its operations in South Portland, the city council on March 6 voted unanimously to amend what Councilor Eben Rose referred to as a “dead letter law” still on city books.

That rule calls on a metered rate for taxis based on 1/9th of a mile. However, City Manager Scott Morelli said that South Portland does not employ a sealer of weights and measures. That being the case, it relies on a state sealer to do such things as regulate cab fares, inspect the operation of gas pumps and undertake other activities were the public must rely on a given measurement standard being honestly adhered to by local businesses. However, Morelli said the state uses a metered rate for taxicabs charged in increments of 1/10th of a mile.

“As no method of metering currently exists for a 1/9 mile calibration, and it would be a hardship to create such a course,” Morelli advised the council.

As part of the revision, the council also took the opportunity to raise South Portland’s taxi fare rate. Fares are now set at $1.90 for the first 1/10 of a mile “or part thereof,” and 30 cents for each additional 1/10th mile “or part thereof,” an increase from 25 cents. The price a taxi can charge for each minute spent waiting at a passenger‘s request has been bumped up from 30 cents to 40.

Police cruiser bid awarded – At its March 6 meeting, the South Portland City Council approved the purchase of a 2018 Chevy Tahoe SUV for the police department. The city sent out 22 invitations to bid, but only got one response, from Liberty Chevrolet of Wakefield, Massachusetts. The vehicle, to be used by shift supervisors, will cost $37,041, plus an additional $2,255 in modifications.

Police Chief Ed Googins said the Tahoe is preferred to the Ford it will replace, despite costing about $7,000 more, because it has more space in the back cab area, which will allow for the equipment needed by supervisors to use it as a mobile command station at the scene of a major incident. The Tahoe is already employed by the fire department for the same purpose, he said.

Googins said he expects to put the department’s two command vehicles on a four-year rotation from this point on, replacing one every two years. The older one will then be passed off to other uses in the city, generally lasting eight to nine year before being sold off or traded in.

Because Liberty only offered $500 as a trade-in value for the oldest vehicle now in the police department fleet, Googins said he will soon offer it for sale.

Pedestrian safety – The South Portland Police

Department has been invited by the state to participate in the 2018 Bureau of Highway Safety Targeted Pedestrian-Motor Vehicle Enforcement Grant program, initiated to address an increase in pedestrian fatalities across Maine. In 2017, Maine saw 259 motor vehicle crashes that involved a pedestrian, 20 of whom were killed.

According to Lauren Stewart, director of the Bureau of Highway Safety, has been unable to “pin down” the cause of these accidents to a common denominator on the part of either motorists or pedestrians.

“We determined that to reduce future fatalities, we need to address both the pedestrian and motorist behavior through public education, address any structural issues that could be identified as a cause, and combine these measures with targeted enforcement.”

To help with that enforcement, the bureau approved more than $50,000 in grants in amounts that ranged from $500 to $10,000 to pay for extra police patrols in 21 cities and towns targeted for having the highest number of car crashes involving pedestrians. South Portland came in sixth on that list, eligible for $1,846.

Big dig to begin – South Portland has awarded a $4.22 million contract to Gorham Sand and Gravel of Buxton to handle the fourth and final phase of a sewer separate project launched in 2011. Since then, the city has done work in Knightville and Thornton Heights to divert stormwater runoff from the city sewer drains. The new project will cover the Pleasantdale neighborhood, along Broadway between Cole Street and Alpine Street, as far back toward the Fore River as the railroad tracks.

The project, part of an requirement issued by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in the 1980s, is needed because in high rain events, stormwater can cause city sewer pipes to overflow, result in the dumping of effluent into the river. According to city civil engineer Justin Gove, the overflow drain on Elm Street, located in the heart of the new rebuild area, backed up 78 times between 2002 and 2001, resulting in the discharge of 56 million gallons of raw sewage into the river.

The city issued 52 invitations to bid on the contract and got back three replies, which ranges as high as $4.81 million. The city will be on the hook for $2.87 million of the bill, which is about $100,000 more than it had budgeted, Gove said, with the rest to be paid by Portland Water District. While the streets are open for sewer work, all underground utilities will be updated Gove said, with the water district replacing some of its century-old water mains under Broadway.

“Since we are going to be in the neighborhood, and since it’s going to be very intrusive and very disruptive for residents, lasting one full construction season, we are looking to do all the work that we need to do in the streets at one time,” Gove said, adding that the streets will be rebuilt using the “complete streets” model employed for similar projects on Ocean Street in Knightville and Main Street in Thornton Heights, to include a widening of the intersection at Broadway and Elm.

“It should be a nice revitalizing factor to the neighborhood,” he said.

“I look forward to the psychological benefits as well as the infrastructure benefits this will have for what is one of the poorest parts of the city, with a poverty rate of about 20 percent,” said City Councilor Eben Rose.

Councilor Claude Morgan, meanwhile, congratulated city staff for reaching the finish line far ahead of their peers in Portland, tasked by the state with similar environmental work.

“One community with a laser-like focus is nearly done, while another community has barely begun, which is just staggering to me,” he said.

City Manager Scott Morelli said most of the work will be paid for out of reserves held in tax increment financing district and sewer construction funds. No surcharge is expected to be added to city sewer bills to pay for the work, he said.

– Compiled by Staff Writer Duke Harrington

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