Issues of the evening:
Assisted Living Centers
Most who showed up this night were there in opposition to the amendment on the table to allow, among other things, assisted living centers as permitted use in Office Research Districts (ORDs). The reason for the amendment, it was alleged with great umbrage, is to widen the provision for a certain parcel of land on Lafayette street just past the Market Basket plaza. Many were vocal in their opposition to changing this exception based on one landowner’s inability to sell his land. One resident, Ralph DiBernardo, asked if there some offer on the table for whom these exceptions were being made, since they all seemed to be suspiciously specific exceptions. The lawyer representing said land owner denied any specific potential buyers, and said that the City Planner was the one who suggested this amendment in hopes that it would assist in making the land more saleable. City Planner Taintor said that it was also an attempt to clean up the ordinance, and that the setback of 300 feet seemed arbitrary, and the as the setbacks jumped from 200 to 300 to 150 with no apparent rhyme or reason as it stood now. Other objections to allowing assisted living centers in Office Research Districts came from care providers at current facilities in the city that accept Medicare, who said that opening a private facility would put a hardship on their own facilities, which rely on non-Medicaid patients to keep afloat, and possibly result in a strain on the city’s emergency services.
As for the Councilors, they overall agreed that spot-zoning was not the way to handle this one issue, and that the landowner should go to the Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA) and go through the process the way it’s currently set up instead of skirting the process. Councilor Clayburgh said that the way the system is set up, someone can go to the Planning Board or the ZBA, and they would be appealing to a fair group. Deputy Mayor Lister said that senior services is something that should be carefully looked at in the Master Plan, and involve health care representatives, medical doctors, and look at trends in senior care, especially with an aging population going into the future. Councilor Dwyer also mentioned the need to find out from the senior citizens’ task force if they were in favor of narrowing the options rather than expanding them. The Councilors voted the measure down.
Sidewalk Liquor Service
The next big topic was the proposal to allow up to 6 city businesses to lease city sidewalk property for sidewalk cafes providing alcohol service. Some of the provisions include:
– Alcohol may only be served to a person seated at a table and ordering a “substantial meal”
– Be separated from the surrounding public walkway by “heavy duty black decorative material or equivalent as approved by the City Manager or his designee,” be between 30″–36″ high, and be non-permanent/moveable
– The sidewalk cafe is allowed no longer than 6 months out of the year and will typically run from mid-April to mid-October
– No audio or visual entertainment is allowed outside, or inside if it is directed to patrons on the sidewalk
– Seating area must be contiguous to a doorway, and the restaurant entrances and walkways must continue to meet all ADA requirements
– Sidewalk outside the seating area must be at least 10’–12′ in Market Square, and at least 5′ elsewhere
– No bus buckets, condiments, or paper products can be kept on tables outside
– The City Council has the right to revoke the privilege at any time in public interest
To start, Councilor Kennedy thinks that $2,000 is too low a price to pay to allow restaurants to block off sections of the City’s sidewalk. Councilor Lown thinks a low fee is a good place to start, since this is a test/pilot year for this kind of service. Kennedy explains, “I like to debate in my head: what are our residents getting and what are they receiving,” and thinks this would take a lot from citizens in the way of accessing the sidewalks, etc., and not give a lot back. Councilor Dwyer points out that this will be a benefit to the residents as well, who will be able to enjoy a beverage outdoors, and states that making money is not the objective here, it’s to provide benefit to the community. Councilor Lown feels strongly that this is something the city ought to try; he sees very little downside and lots of upside, and many of the great cities of the world have similar sidewalk cafes so apparently the model is working. Councilor Clayburgh thinks it will add to the “attractability” of Portsmouth and the general ambience, for residents AND tourists. Breaking New Grounds will still offer free seating to all, something that would not change with this new service. The policy passes, with a deadline of May 1st for all business looking to apply.
Other items of note:
– Martin “Marty” Cameron asks permission for a July 8th “Welcome Home Iraq Veterans Parade”, which will be the first of its kind in the state and would likely encompass Afghanistan veterans as well. The Council urges them to offset as much cost to the city as possible, to which they respond that they’ve already gathered permission to use some existing funding towards offsetting City costs.
– City accepts an early payout settlement of $220,000.00 from Pro Portsmouth. City Manager Bohenko states that the organization has done so much great work for the city for many many years. Councilor Lown adds, strictly from a vetter/creditor point of view, it’s a good deal to take this money. It would likely cost the City more to collect the full sum over many years than to take this large payout now, and City Attorney Sullivan thinks “it is better to take this bird in the hand than wait a few years for the birds that may be in the bush.”
– The City authorizes the refinancing of some city bonds due the current favorable climate, which City Manager Bohenko says will save the city anywhere from $2—2.2 Million over the next ten years.
– Kit Clews, in partnership with 3SArtspace, gets permission for this statue to be on display in Market Square: