PORTLAND, Maine — The City of Portland is one step closer to beginning work on a new 200-bed Homeless Services Center in the Riverton neighborhood. On Monday, the Portland City Council approved leases with developers chosen for the project, DC Riverside LLC.
The council voted 8-0 to sign the leases for the project just one day before Portland voters see a referendum question about the size of future homeless shelters for the city.
"This work has been years in the making. The city council through varying membership and city staff have worked to find a way to move the city's emergency shelter out of rented space on Oxford Street, to a permanent home on city-owned property," Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said.
According to city staff, the cost would be capped at $25 million for the facility construction -- $5 million more than the developer's original $20 million proposal. City staff wrote that is due to "planning board approval conditions; the pandemic's impact on material costs; energy efficiency requirements associated with the Green New Deal; and site improvement expenses."
During the meeting, a number of Portland residents urged the council to delay its decision until after the election.
"I implore you, do what is right and postpone this vote until people have had their say in the polls," said Carolyn Silvius, a volunteer with Smaller Shelters for Portland.
During the meeting, Anne Torregrossa, counsel for the city, said the city does not believe the referendum question on the size of future Portland homeless shelters will impact the development of the Homeless Services Center.
Leaders with Smaller Shelter for Portland believe, however, that it will apply.
Voters will be presented with three options in the referendum: Option A, proposed by Smaller Shelters for Portland, looks to limit capacity to 50 beds. Option B, endorsed by the Portland City Council, would limit capacity to 150, and Option C would reject both other options, and keep current limits as is.
Snyder said during the meeting that if there's overwhelming support for Option A, then the council might reconsider its lease agreement.
"We will see the results of tomorrow's referendum question, in the event that, I would imagine, the event that there's overwhelming support for option A tomorrow, we may want to come back as council and talk about tonight's decision," Snyder said.
Portland City Councilor Belinda Ray said during the meeting that it's likely litigation will follow if Option A passes.
At its meeting on Monday, the Portland City Council also voted to approve the allocation of more than $14 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan. As part of the plan, $3.5 million will go towards the Homeless Services Center. More than $3.8 million will also fund the replacement of the Kiwanis Community Pool.
Other recommendations include funding for parks and recreation, public health, and affordable housing.