Just one day before the public hearing on LD 1268: An Act to Update the Site Location of Development Laws, the Portland Press Herald published this front page story on the controversial proposal, its potential impacts and the reasonings behind it. You can click here to see the story directly on the Press Herald’s website, or read the article in its entirety below. Main-Land Development Consultants’ owner Darryl Brown, who has led the charge against this legislation, was featured, as was Jeff Austin, a lobbyist for the Maine Municipal Association, who was quoted as saying the proposed revamp of the site law “is just too draconian.” The fact that up to 40 percent of the DEP reviewed projects of the last three years would have been denied under LD 1268 underscores certainly that. MMA will attend tomorrow’s hearing and speak out against the bill.
Press Herald writer Tux Turkel did a nice job presenting the issue from both sides of the table. Perhaps coincidentally, the article on LD 1268 ran alongside one on the struggles of Maine graduates to stay in the state because of a tight job market here. These two issues are connected much more closely than one might think. Development isn’t a dirty word, and the jobs and revenue opportunities development creates are critical to Maine’s fiscal future.
Throughout the article and the forums we’ve held, DEP has claimed the bill is just a conversation starter, and “wish-list kind of stuff.” While that may have been their intention, we see things a bit differently. It is our impression that had Darryl not gotten wind of this in the roundabout way he did, LD 1268 would have likely been enacted without much discussion or realization of its implications.
That said, we’re glad that the forums and the buzz they’ve helped generate have caused DEP to rethink this proposal, and give more consideration to the input of those who would be more impacted by any changes (those on the front line like developers, realtors, town planners, etc.) DEP has also conceded some scaling back as it pertains to the rules associated with the site law (not the law itself) as a result of Main-Land’s forums. It is our hope that this experience will really help illustrate an effective model for how the public and the private sectors can work together for the betterment of the state. From where DEP sits in Augusta, it’s hard for them to fully understand how their decisions impact those who have to deal with the consequences. Had this bill be enacted without discussion, it would have devastating effects, especially on rural Maine. But now, we think the legislation that we’ll get in the end will be so much stronger thanks to Darryl’s input and that of the others who have come to the forums and joined his cause.
We hope this article will generate a larger turnout for the public hearing, which will be held in Augusta tomorrow (Tuesday, April 14) at 1 p.m. in the Cross Building. Hope to see you there!
Bill seeks to overhaul growth management
State House: The proposal would guide the siting of development, but foes say it could be a project-killer.
By Tux Turkel, Portland Press Herald Staff Writer
With the recession as a backdrop, lawmakers will hear a proposal Tuesday for a major overhaul of the state law that guides large-scale development.
Supporters, led by the state Department of Environmental Protection, will make the case that Maine’s Site Location of Development Law is outdated and out of step with more recent growth management objectives.
They’re seeking changes that would steer big projects closer to communities’ growth areas, along with updated rules that reflect today’s best development practices.
The recession is a good time to consider such changes, they say, absent the pressures of a building boom.
But opponents, including developers and some rural town representatives, say tightening up the site law during a deep economic downturn makes no sense.
Darryl Brown, owner of Main-Land Development Consultants in Livermore Falls and a vocal critic who has organized a campaign against the proposed changes, says an overhaul would bring development to a standstill.
Bound to be hurt, Brown said, would be rural communities that hunger for new businesses and the jobs they can bring, such as the towns he works with in western Maine.
Debate over development tends to be emotional and controversial, fueled by strong feelings about local control, sprawl and finding a balance between preservation and growth to maintain Maine’s sense of place. These elements will color discussion of L.D. 1268, the bill that would revise the site law. The public is invited to comment at Tuesday’s public hearing before the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee, which begins at 1 p.m. in Room 214 of the Cross State Office Building in Augusta.
FINE-TUNING DEVELOPMENT POLICY
Maine’s site law requires state environmental review of significant development, including commercial projects covering three acres or more and large residential subdivisions. Enacted in the 1970s, it hasn’t had major revisions since 1995.
Staff from state agencies, including the DEP, the State Planning Office and Department of Transportation, have been meeting for the past year or so to evaluate the aging law.
Andrew Fisk, who heads the DEP’s Bureau of Land and Water Quality, said the issues boiled down to this: “Is development in Maine happening where we want and the way we want?”
The agencies looked at projects approved under the site law from January 2006 to December 2008. It found that two-thirds of all major development took place in local growth areas, in towns that have made those designations.
“We’re not claiming there’s a huge crisis on the landscape,” Fisk said. “We just think we can do better.”
That feeling focuses on the imperfect relationship between the site law and the 20-year-old Growth Management Act.
The act encourages towns to designate growth areas through local comprehensive plans. The idea is to concentrate development around existing services and buildings, rather than scatter it across the countryside. Changes in the site law, Fisk said, would complement the policy goals of the growth act.
But the act’s planning process – once mandatory – is voluntary these days, and nearly half of the state’s 455 communities lack plans consistent with the law, according to the State Planning Office. Fewer still have enacted effective zoning and land-use ordinances to support their plans.
Many of these towns are in rural areas, where too much development isn’t a problem. Changes that might discourage businesses don’t sit well with people there.
TENSION OVER RECESSION TIMING
The proposed overhaul of the site rule “is just too draconian,” said Jeff Austin, a lobbyist for the Maine Municipal Association. “It’s just too much of a barrier to development.”
The group will oppose the bill, but Austin said his membership is split. Towns with strong zoning and comprehensive plans like to see the state backing up their ordinances. But it’s a different story in rural towns that don’t typically feel growth pressure.
“A lot of this is psychological and emotional,” he said. “These towns are saying, ‘How can you just turn off the lights in my town?’ ”
At the DEP, Fisk said the agency doesn’t want to do anything to hurt Maine’s economy. And rule changes that would affect residential subdivisions, for instance, would have more flexibility and allow construction in rural areas, if developments met open space and other conservation guidelines.
Fisk also said the proposals are drafts and part of a process, not a final product. They will be refined after the give-and-take that comes from public input.
That’s not how Brown, the development consultant, views what has taken place.
A former legislator, Brown said the public knew little about the DEP’s intentions until very recently. When he found out early this winter, he organized a series of informational forums in western Maine to draw attention to the plans. Some of the forums were attended by the DEP.
In Brown’s view, the site law doesn’t need major revisions. Looking back over the past 10 years, he said he just doesn’t see big problems with how development is taking place. Brown has spent recent weeks reaching out to developers, small-town officials and other opponents, asking them to send a similar message to Augusta.
“I’m hoping this bill is just killed,” he said.
FURTHER STUDY MAY BE NEEDED
It was unclear late last week whether there was support for the measure from environmental and land-use planning advocates.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine said it hadn’t yet formed a position. GrowSmart Maine, which promotes planned development and downtown revitalization, said it wants to work on consensus-building with communities and not engage in contentious debates.
At the Maine Municipal Association, Austin said he wouldn’t be surprised if the bill is held over for more study and possible compromises. The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Robert Duchesne, D-Hudson, has said the committee may end up recommending that the idea be studied by a stakeholder group.
Fisk agreed that more discussion may be the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing.
“We’re not saying this should happen now,” Fisk said. “We’re just saying we should have the conversation.”