ME Supreme Court hears arguments on sale of Portland's Congress Square Park

PORTLAND, Maine -- (NEWS CENTER) -- The case over whether voters should be able to decide on the sale of Portland's Congress Square Park to a private developer has gone all the way to the Maine Supreme Court. Wednesday, the state's high court heard oral arguments from the city and from the citizen's group trying to overturn the city council's decision to sell the park.

Last fall, the Portland city council voted 6-3 to sell most of Congress Square Park to the owners of the Westin Hotel next door. But a group fighting the sale gathered petitions for a citizen's referendum. They collected more than 4,000 signatures, enough to put the issue on the June ballot. But city officials told the group the city council's decision could not be overturned by voters. And so the citizen's group sued. A lower court found in their favor, and the city appealed.

Those opposed to the park sale say they just want voters to be able to decide whether Congress Square Park should remain public space.

Frank Turek, who opposes the sale, said, "If this all goes through, then the people will get to vote on whether or not to sell the park, which is what everyone is telling us that they want. They want to be able to decide on whether or not a park can be sold."

The city argues that city councilors did their job, and their decision to sell the property should stand. City attorney Jennifer Thompson said, "The city's concern is the process in place for citizens to initiate legislation wasn't followed in this case. That process has important limitations on voters' ability to enact legislation"

There's no timetable for the Supreme Court to make its decision, but both sides are hoping for a speedy resolution. If the court finds in favor of the citizen's group, there will be a lot of campaigning to do before the vote June 10.


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