2018-03-16 / Community

Night construction nixed after concerns

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland City Council has taken the first step toward limiting nighttime construction, with a March 6 unanimous vote for new restrictions. Final passage of the measure is expected at the council’s next business session, Tuesday, March 20.

Under the new rules, a Nighttime Construction Permit, issued by the code enforcement officer, would be required to “erect, construct, demolish, excavate for, pave for, alter, or repair any building or structure,” including roads and parking lots, between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Exempted work not subject to a permit would include snowplowing, street sweeping, and “emergency work,” such as to repair a broken utility line.

Before the code enforcement officer signs off on a permit, it would need a nod from the police and public works departments, as well as an engineering inspector. During this scrutiny, special attention would be given to projects that take place inside or within 300 feet of any residential zone. In that case, additional review standards to be vetted prior to the issuance of a permit would include the noise, traffic impact, economic hardship and safety of any regulated work to be done, as well as “other factors relating to the general public interest.”

Once a permit is issued, work could not begin until three days after all residents within 500 feet of the work site have been notified.

The new rules would replace existing allowances for nighttime construction, which date to 2004, with the most recent update made in 2007. The old provisions call for permission from the city council for any nighttime construction. However, council assent would be excised from the new process, due to the extra layers of review from city staff that have been added.

“The point is not to take the council out of the loop,” said Assistant City Manager Josh Reny. “It’s really to streamline things, and there would still be an appeal process.”

“We are never going to rid the city of constriction work, but much of it does not need to take place at night,” said City Councilor Claude Morgan, who brought the issue to his peers at a November 2017 workshop, based on resident complaints.

At that workshop, D Street resident Melanie Wiker said that during three nights in September a contractor started as early as 2 a.m. to repair the Shaw’s parking lot in Mill Creek.

“They were paving, jackhammering, doing everything,” Wiker said. “The police said they had a permit. In the end, no permit. What do we do? That’s the question. It got stuck at code enforcement.”

City Manager Scott Morelli said in a Dec. 1 email to the Sentry that the Shaw’s work did not need a permit because it was not in a residential zone. Thus, there was nothing for code enforcement to enforce. Still, the council asked Morelli to have staff craft new limitations. When that work was presented March 6, Morgan continued his earlier assertion, that there is “no excuse” for most nighttime construction.

“There’s not often a very good reason why it is performed at night,” Morgan said. “Many times it is for the convenience of the construction crew and not the convenience of the residents, who have to bear the brunt of it.”

At the March 6 meeting, Orchard Street resident Patricia Whyte observed that the bright lights of nighttime job sites can often be as oppressive to nearby residents as the scream of power tools. At that, the council agreed the final ordinance update will require permit applicants to also provide a lighting plan for review.

One thing that is not clear is whether the new permit process, once adopted, will apply to work done by the Maine Department of Transportation, which would likely “claim it is exempt,” Morelli said.

The best City Attorney Sally Daggett could offer on that front was that, “The law isn’t clear on that.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@inthesentry.com.

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