LEWISTON — The City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday night that a citizens’ petition to stop the purchase of property at 2 and 26 Oxford St. is not valid because the council decides such issues, not voters.
The council’s lawyer, Martin Eisenstein, said councilors, in approving the purchase, were implementing a public policy previously declared, based on a master plan approved in 2012.
Council President Mark Cayer, who voted against the petition, suggested that if residents are against land banking, they should petition to stop the practice.
Some residents at the meeting said the issue was about their right to be heard and have a say through a referendum. Councilor Leslie Dubois agreed, saying it involved taxes so there should be a vote by the public.
Darcy Reed, of Ward 4, said, “It’s not about the property, it’s about democracy. People should always be given a say in their government.”
“The idea that this isn’t about the property is disingenuous,” Councilor Kristen Cloutier said.
Paul Madore, who is on the Planning Board, pointed out that a citizens’ initiative in Portland went to the Supreme Court and Portland was fined $50,000 for violating citizens’ rights.
“There is a legitimate concern here that we will pursue,” Madore said. “You are denying us due process and we deserve due process.”
Four of the 10 signatures on the petition are those of Planning Board members, a councilor pointed out.
Other residents advised the council not to set a precedent by allowing people to take every administrative issue to referendum.
Some said spending $315,000 for the land and $85,000 to turn it into a parking lot is too much. Others said it wasn’t compared to the size of the city budget.
“The parking lot is a bonus,” Councilor Don D’Auteuil said. “It’s not $400,000 for a parking lot; it’s $85,000.” He pointed out that each of the 80 spaces is $1,100, less than the parking garage per space.
Councilors hope to sell the parking lot in the future for a project that will benefit the city.
Paul Dionne, a lawyer for landowner Hoods Realty, pointed out there wouldn’t be a Hampton Inn if the city hadn’t bought the land.
Larry Gilbert said, “The Planning Board makes recommendations to the council. The council is elected to make the decisions.”