City of Portland Maine Cuts Urban Design and Historic Preservation Staff
On April 4, Joe Gray, City Manager of Portland Maine, terminated 98 staff positions, including the Urban Designer and Historic Preservation staff, and also eliminated the Parks Department. The Economic Development department was moved in to the City Manager's office. The City Council will hear public input on April 29 and May 5 on these changes.
The City's Historic Preservation staff was in the process of establishing an historic district along Congress Street - the main street of downtown Portland. This initiative was facing opposition from business leaders. The loss of City staff may impact this project.
The City's Urban Design position has faced challenges from the development community which seeks to reduce design review. The Portland Chamber released a report last week that provides recommendations for restructuring the development review process and includes the following: "Aesthetic concerns should be minimized wherever possible..."
This opinion that design review should be minimized in order to facilitate development reinforces the decision of the City Manager's office to terminate the Urban Design and historic preservation positions. It is unclear if the termination of these positions was a budget decision, or rather a policy and staffing decision made under the guise of a budget crisis. Either way, the sense of place of Portland, Maine could be significantly impacted.