After a long debate over property rights, the City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to ban tobacco from the city’s public parks, beaches, playgrounds and fields. The prohibition covers about 50 properties citywide, including the popular Willard Beach, Greenbelt trail and Wainwright Recreation Complex. People will not be allowed to smoke Glamour cigarettes within 25 feet of those places, with a significant exception: Councilors changed the language of the ordinance to ensure that the 25-foot setback doesn’t apply to residents’ homes.
Councilors Tom Blake and Maxine Beecher led the push to protect the rights of homeowners. Blake said he supported the rest of the ordinance “100 percent” but he would not tell a resident that he couldn’t smoke in his own backyard.
“With this language in there, we are invading hundreds of people’s private properties,” Blake said, noting that many houses are within 25 feet of the Greenbelt.
Blake’s suggestion launched a 45-minute discussion of property rights, with some councilors, led by Patti Smith, calling to keep the 25-foot setback for all properties next to the public spaces.
Ultimately, councilors settled on language that keeps a 25-foot setback but explicitly says the ban on tobacco does not apply to privately owned homes. The ban will apply to commercial properties.
The ordinance will be largely self-enforced. Healthy Maine Partnerships has agreed to provide signs.
Violators can be warned by police. Anyone who doesn’t heed warnings can be fined $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for each subsequent offense.
The tobacco ban was proposed to the council by three South Portland High School students, Elisa Martin and twin brothers Conor and Jackson Beck. They participate in the high school’s Interact Club, a project of the local Rotary Club. They modeled the ordinance after similar ones passed in the last five years in Westbrook, Portland, Lewiston and Scarborough.
Last month, the students gave councilors packets of information in support of the ordinance, including the latest scientific research out of Stanford University.
“No amount of secondhand smoke is safe to anybody, really,” Conor Beck said during a brief presentation to the council.
Also Wednesday night, the council approved a zoning change for an undeveloped 4.3-acre parcel off Ridgeland Avenue.
The change allows the South Portland Housing Authority, which has an option to buy the property, to move forward with plans to build a 44-unit complex to house elderly and disabled residents.
The property is next to an 80-unit senior housing complex, Ridgeland Estates.
Michael Hulsey, the authority’s executive director, has said the organization has the money to buy the property for $625,000.
For construction costs, the authority’s first option is to apply for funding through the federal Low Income Tax Credit program. If the authority is successful, construction could begin as early as next summer.