South Portland, Maine

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Patrick

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So So. Portland is considering a TIF for a TOD which may ultimately be used to fund a light rail system in a portion of the city, see article below.

SOUTH PORTLAND ? South Portland could become the first municipality in Maine to take advantage of a new kind of tax increment financing district - one in which a portion of new taxes generated from selected developments in the city would go to fund public transportation.

The City Council last week unanimously endorsed a plan to develop an application seeking approval for the transit tax district to send to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

Under the plan, the district would initially include 15 development properties that sit along the city's already established bus routes. The council is expected to hold a public hearing on the application in February or early March.

If the tax district is approved, 25 percent of the new tax revenue generated from the district would go to help the city pay for such transit-related improvements as hiring more bus drivers and installing new bus shelters. The other 75 percent of the tax revenue would go into the city's general fund.

Funds derived from the new tax district for transportation are expected to be small at first - only about $1,100 in the first year. But over the 30-year life of the tax district, it's estimated that more than $1.8 million could be generated to help pay to improve public transportation in the city.

"Today, we're planting a small acorn that hopefully will grow into a large oak tree," Mayor Tom Coward at the council workshop on Dec. 15.

He said it's possible the new tax district arrangement could help pay for train transportation in the future. "Eventually," he said, "we may get light rail down Main Street."

Forming such a tax district also would benefit South Portland because the creation of a tax increment financing district shields new property values from the calculations the state makes to determine how much state aid municipalities receive each year.

Generally, the lower a city's or town's property values, the higher its share of state aid for school or municipal spending.

Because the transit tax district presentation took place at a workshop, the council took no formal vote on the issue. But each of the six councilors in attendance at the meeting voiced support for the proposal.

Councilor Linda Boudreau thanked the council for its positive response. She and Mayor Coward worked on the proposal along with Charles "Tex" Haeuser, the city's planning director.

"This is a TIF, something we are familiar with," Boudreau said. But she and Haeuser said this new type of tax district is different from other tax districts.

Tax revenues from traditional tax increment financing district agreement typically go for such projects as building roads or other infrastructure. The improvements often are very near the development properties in the district.

In this case, however, the funds would go for public transportation all over the city. And property owners in the district wouldn't get a tax rebate, as is common in other types of tax districts.

The state Legislature in June passed a new law allowing the creation of transit-oriented development tax increment financing districts. South Portland led the effort to get the law passed, according to City Manager James Gailey.

He said Haeuser came up with the idea after attending a conference, and worked with two Democratic Maine legislators who represent South Portland, Sen. Larry Bliss and Rep. Jane Eberle, to get the bill passed.

Gailey praised Haeuser's efforts. "We owe him a lot of gratitude and thanks for his work on this initiative and getting it on the state books," Gailey said.

Haeuser gave an overview of how transit tax districts work to the council at the workshop.

His presentation followed another one the council heard regarding the possibility of the city establishing some sort of environmentally-friendly "green" building ordinance.

Haeuser said that a public transport tax district is another type of green measure. Public transportation helps cuts down on the number of cars and encourages denser, smart growth in cities instead of the building of sprawling suburbs, he said. Businesses also flourish wherever public transportation is available, he said.

Haeuser said the proposed new district is "starting small." Only 25 percent of new taxes generated would go into a fund for improving transit, with the remainder going in the general fund, he said.

"Usually, TIF's capture 100 percent (of new tax revenues)," Haeuser said. But he said in that in this economic recession "now is not the time to be aggressive" with the tax district.

He said there would be a cap of $240,000 of total tax revenues that could be captured for transit funding from the district in the first five years. That cap would increase by 1 percent annually.

However, the transit tax district that is proposed is so small that the cap is not expected to be reached.

Being in the tax district would have no impact on property owners or their property, Haeuser said. It would simply mean that if the value of their property increases, the city would put 25 percent of the taxes they would pay on that increased value in a fund to help pay for transit and the other 75 percent in the general fund.

In a letter to owners whose properties would be in the designated district, Haeuser explained how the district would work. The letter was sent to notify owners of the Dec. 15 workshop.

The properties selected to be in the proposed transit tax district are located all over the city. Haeuser said they are simply parcels that seem to have some potential for development. They range from property on the eastern end of the city near Bug Light owned by developer John Cacoulidis - on which he has previously proposed building a hotel - to properties on the western end near the Maine Mall.

Vincent Maietta is the owner of one such property. He told the council at the workshop, "I think this is a fabulous opportunity for the city."

In fact, Maietta said he would like the city to include more of his properties and those of others in the district. That way, he said, the city could put more in the transit fund and also shield more property valuation from the state's revenue sharing formulas.

However, Haeuser said the city is starting small for a number of reasons. One is that such tax districts are time-consuming to administer and the city might have to hire another staff person to manage the district if it were larger.

Councilor Maxine Beecher noted that once the district is created, it could be enlarged at a later date.

According to Shana Cook Mueller, an attorney with the Portland firm of Bernstein Shur who is working as as a consultant with the city on the transit district proposal, the town of Orono is also considering such a transit tax district.
 
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Todd

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This is good news, is it just for South Portland, or will the city of Portland be part of the plan as well.

I have always wondered why there hasnt been more of a focus on transit with a city like portland.
 
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Patrick

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This is good news, is it just for South Portland, or will the city of Portland be part of the plan as well.

I have always wondered why there hasnt been more of a focus on transit with a city like portland.
Todd I think it is just for the City of South Portland. The City of Portland may or may not have policies like this in place at various spots--I don't know, and I haven't heard of any. The planner for south portland is pretty smart and urban minded. He has been doing a real good job.

As to your wondering about why Portland hasn't been more focused on transportation--good question. It would seem to be relatively easy given the dense layout and small population. However, most of the people that would use mass transit in the city already do (the bus) and any newcomers would be drawn from sparsely populated suburbs. In contrast to the town of portland, its surroundings are not urban at all (hardly even suburban).

The trick is to get the right density to allow more feasible mass transit, but how do you get density without mass transit first? Chicken or egg thing>
 
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Todd

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another thing....unrelated to mass transit, but related to Portland And South Portland. I never understood why they are two different cities. In this economic times, and all the budget problems, why wouldnt they at least join forces? It would make sense to combine many of the city services that each city are struggling to pay for. Just a thought....It would certainly make sense for them to become one city rather than two struggling cities.
Then again...Im no expert...just a blogger with a huge interest in Portland
 
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Patrick

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Todd - I am in the same shoes as you in terms of expertise. I don't really have the answer to your question, but I have heard some other people's thought. In the early 20th century the legislature considered combining the two cities but the idea was overwhelmingly rejected.

Economically, today the two towns are as integrated as could be. They serve different markets, but aerial photos show a continuous built environment.

A lot of cities are combing forces, as you said, and consolidating departments, but at one level you have to remember people like local control, home rule, etc. At another level, you have to realize that in a state like Maine it would be vastly more efficient for ten small rural towns to consolidate than it would for portland and south portland. That's the rationale I've been told by "experts."

Plus, its kind of a low priority idea for officials - can you imagine being the guy that says hey lets combine cities...it would need some motivating factor, not just a general sense that it would be a good idea. Otherwise it won't be on people's radar.

There is a good book called 'Cities Without Suburbs' that makes the case for exactly the types of moves you are arguing for.

to some extent, the two cities already do combine their efforts. look at the jetport. the metro crosses boundaries into south portland and vice versa, etc.
 
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Patrick

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If for no other reason than to show how nicely this street is coming together, I'm posting this article. Great potential to be a niche urban village just outside of downtown. The only issue is travel -- would a shuttle or light rail be able to shoot people over the water to Portland more quickly? If so, this would become a great urban place. This is the sort of area some people would like to see in the India street neighborhood--and they're right, it has merit as a wonderful sort of walkable place--but the question is whether it is appropriately urban for its location. Being outside of downtown, this neighborhood (Knightville, as shown, the original downtown South Portland) is appropriate for this kind of second-tier town center. India?
http://www.theforecaster.net/news/p...nd-parking-decision-angers-knightville/126956
 

FrankLloydMike

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If for no other reason than to show how nicely this street is coming together, I'm posting this article. Great potential to be a niche urban village just outside of downtown. The only issue is travel -- would a shuttle or light rail be able to shoot people over the water to Portland more quickly? If so, this would become a great urban place. This is the sort of area some people would like to see in the India street neighborhood--and they're right, it has merit as a wonderful sort of walkable place--but the question is whether it is appropriately urban for its location. Being outside of downtown, this neighborhood (Knightville, as shown, the original downtown South Portland) is appropriate for this kind of second-tier town center. India?
http://www.theforecaster.net/news/p...nd-parking-decision-angers-knightville/126956
I think Knightville is about perfect in terms of density for a sub-urban village/neighborhood center right outside of a downtown. It's not suburban in the conventional sense, but works as an excellent secondary node in the orbit of a larger one. I'm assuming the old bridge went right through, rather than circumventing, the neighborhood. While that would definitely make transit easier, it would also mean a lot more traffic through the neighborhood, and I bet some would be calling for widening those roads. Personally, I'd like to see India Street be a bit denser. It's not quite sub-urban in the way that Knightville is, nor is it as independent of downtown.

Anyway, I can't believe that some business owners are so upset over switching from angled-in to parallel parking, especially when it means that the area will be a more pleasant place to visit. The market owner who pointed out that you don't have to parallel park at Hannaford's has it exactly right, but he's missing the point. People go to small markets, they shop in neighborhoods like Knightville, not always because it's more convenient (though I'd argue it often is), but because of the experience. Knightville is a real place--you can walk around, sit at a bench or table on the sidewalk, feel like part of a community--and Hannaford's is just a big box store. If you want to make Knightville and the businesses there more attractive, you have to enhance that sense-of-place. Maintaining the number of parking spots but transforming them to allow wider sidewalks and beautification sounds like a very fair trade-off.
 

Corey

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^Great points about the parking situation, Frank. I do get the sense that a lot of people base their entire lives around parking availability and avoiding round-abouts or parallel parking, but clearly not everybody does. Knightville is indeed a real place, where as the Mill Creek shopping plaza is more of a parking lot.

Although I would love for Knightville to be more like "Yuppieville," quotes like this by Mr. Smaha seem far too gloomy:
"They want to make this a little Yuppieville, to sit around, have a cup of coffee and walk their dogs," he said. "They're not considering the business people at all. We pay employees, we pay taxes, we support civic activities. What do we get in return? Nothing."
I think he does get something in return, which is the ability to operate a business and make money. It really is great that he runs a local small business that adds a lot of value to the community, but I’m not sure what more he is asking for in return. I am over-generalizing here, but I sense that a lot of what is to blame for the subpar urban design and the physical spaces of our cities is this singular focus on what is good for each individual property owner while completely ignoring the larger picture or how the pieces fit together. If Smaha's goes out of business, I don't think it will be because there is parallel parking and an influx of young-urban-professionals who love buying local.
 
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Patrick

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^Great points about the parking situation, Frank. I do get the sense that a lot of people base their entire lives around parking availability and avoiding round-abouts or parallel parking, but clearly not everybody does. Knightville is indeed a real place, where as the Mill Creek shopping plaza is more of a parking lot.

Although I would love for Knightville to be more like "Yuppieville," quotes like this by Mr. Smaha seem far too gloomy:


I think he does get something in return, which is the ability to operate a business and make money. It really is great that he runs a local small business that adds a lot of value to the community, but I’m not sure what more he is asking for in return. I am over-generalizing here, but I sense that a lot of what is to blame for the subpar urban design and the physical spaces of our cities is this singular focus on what is good for each individual property owner while completely ignoring the larger picture or how the pieces fit together. If Smaha's goes out of business, I don't think it will be because there is parallel parking and an influx of young-urban-professionals who love buying local.
Bridge used to go through that main street, you're right. It was called the Million Dollar bridge, now it's the Casco bay Bridge and circumvents the downtown creating a sleepy village area. The funny thing is, the strip mall around it (Mill Creek) is considered historical in nature, technically, though not designated, because it was the first strip mall in Maine.

You're right Corey -- young urban professionals (Yuppies) typically create, not stifle, business. And the problem you referenced above is known as one of 'collective action.' It underlies the prisoners' dilemma in economic game theory, and it is also the overarching goal of zoning (and all public regulations) to overcome that sort of issue for the collective good.
 

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View attachment 29607
The “West End Apartments” in Sopo are looking good. This whole area has changed a lot over the past 10 years for the better.
[/QUOT
Personally I don't find this "looking great". The whole area looks like a succession of strip malls with once again absolutely no green space to break things up. COLD,COLD, COLD. But the powerlines are stunning!
 

GIL

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totally agree that the area needs more green space incorporated, and we need to keep in mind these residential buildings are among the early steps in a long transformation away from strip-malls and massive parking lots toward a walkable, more live-able district.
 

NR2Portland

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Lots of complaining on this site as a whole. Sadly that's the way the world is these days. How this development looks like a strip mall is beyond me. My theory is there is a housing shortage in Southern Maine and these nice looking apartments are slowly decreasing the shortage. Positivity and optimism should be kept in mind in all of these forums because lately all there is is complaining and opinionated negativity.
 

TC_zoid

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These buildings were designed by Kaplan Thompson. They are arguably the best housing arch and development firm in Maine. This is a vast improvement over the majority of housing in SoPo.
 

NR2Portland

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These buildings were designed by Kaplan Thompson. They are arguably the best housing arch and development firm in Maine. This is a vast improvement over the majority of housing in SoPo.
A response with facts and positivity! Great stuff, TC_zoid
 

Max

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Positivity and optimism should be kept in mind in all of these forums because lately all there is is complaining and opinionated negativity.
Agreed, but this has also been the way of every internet forum I've been on since about 1996.

I think folks should feel free to be critical of developments (or policies, etc.), but bellyaching on this forum isn't gonna change anything, those efforts would be better directed at city staff, the planning board, city council, actual developers, etc. I'm here for the facts (and rumors) about the city's built environment and I'm fine with skimming over most of the commentary, but I agree that the negative ramblings are not (usually) interesting or helpful and some of these threads are getting a bit bloated with that sort of thing. But again, this being an internet forum, I wouldn't expect any less!
 

NR2Portland

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Agreed, but this has also been the way of every internet forum I've been on since about 1996.

I think folks should feel free to be critical of developments (or policies, etc.), but bellyaching on this forum isn't gonna change anything, those efforts would be better directed at city staff, the planning board, city council, actual developers, etc. I'm here for the facts (and rumors) about the city's built environment and I'm fine with skimming over most of the commentary, but I agree that the negative ramblings are not (usually) interesting or helpful and some of these threads are getting a bit bloated with that sort of thing. But again, this being an internet forum, I wouldn't expect any less!
Well said Max!
 

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