GrowSmart Maine was founded in 2003 in response to widespread concern that Maine was growing in ways that were damaging and destroying the things we love about the state: historic downtowns were being abandoned, suburban subdivisions were taking over farm fields and forest land, mega-school complexes were replacing small neighborhood schools, and strip mall development continued to push into rural areas. Not long after the organization was founded, we realized that sprawl was inextricably linked to many other factors, from our state’s tax structure and economic development strategy to differences in municipal land use planning efforts. It became apparent that making that connection and developing a comprehensive strategy to combat sprawl would be key to promoting sustainable growth in Maine.
Since then our work has focused on bringing disparate groups together to find common ground solutions for growing Maine’s economy and preserving our ‘quality of place’. We’ve seen a broad scope of successes thanks to a strong grassroots network, effective advocacy and outreach.
GrowSmart Maine helped Standish take their comprehensive plan from concept to code in the Maine Model Town Project. The best practices and lessons learned from that project were shared in workshops across the state with representatives from more than 40 towns.
The Maine Downtown Coalition, initiated through efforts of GrowSmart Maine, was instrumental in securing public matching funds for historic preservation and downtown revitalization (Historic Preservation Tax Credit, Communities for Maine’s Future Fund and Endangered Buildings Revolving Fund).
Working and Natural Landscape Conservation:
Since 2006 GrowSmart Maine has played a key role in initiating and advocating for bond funds to support working and natural land conservation. As a result, millions of dollars have been invested in the purchase of open land, protection of the working waterfront, and preservation of water access, wildlife, fish habitat and farmland. The Land for Maine’s Future Fund alone has protected over 490,000 acres and succeeded in securing additional funds in November 2010 and 2012.
In 2006 the legislature appropriated $4 million in general fund monies for business cluster development in direct response to a recommendation in Charting Maine’s Future, a report commissioned by GrowSmart Maine and authored by the Brookings Institution. Since then $63 million dollars in bond revenue has been invested in research and development and innovative companies. GrowSmart Maine, with the help of our grassroots network of engaged citizens, took a lead role in advocating for passage of these programs.
GrowSmart Maine is a non-partisan statewide catalyst for change, bringing disparate voices together to find common solutions that will strengthen Maine’s economy without compromising our assets.
GrowSmart Maine continues to focus on the three action steps identified in Charting Maine’s Future as necessary for sustainable prosperity:
Protecting the Maine “brand”, the communities and landscapes that make Maine special and give us a key competitive advantage in recruiting new workers and businesses;
Investing in new research and development to grow the emergent innovation economy and extend economic opportunity to all Mainers; and
Streamlining government in order to lower taxes, deliver services more efficiently and free up resources for other important investments.
Our primary strategies for achieving these goals are:
Convening and engaging in public conversations about Maine’s future
Contributing common sense policy analysis
Educating the public
Advocating for state and local change and
Supporting model practices
Our major activities for the year ahead include:
Charting Maine’s Future: Making Headway
Released in 2006, Charting Maine’s Future provided a strategic plan for Maine, outlining actions needed to build economic prosperity while protecting Maine’s quality of place. Much of what was recommended in Charting Maine’s Future has been accomplished and it continues to be referred to as a guide to sustainable prosperity for Maine. GrowSmart Maine has compiled an assessment of the impact of the report on the state and the next steps in growing Maine’s economy, revitalizing downtowns, and protecting our working and natural landscapes - Charting Maine's Future: Making Headway. A multi-media effort including a 34 page update, 4 short films, web content and the Summit 2012, we will continue to celebrate the successes achieved by Mainers at the intersection of Maine's economy, environment and communities. Regional convenings across the state are planned to dicuss the outcomes and impacts of this assessment.
ReEnvisioning the Highway Strip
GrowSmart Maine has launched a project to explore ways to incorporate highway strips into the fabric of our communities. During the 1970s and 1980s strip malls sprawled into the fields and forests between our towns. At the time they were considered a convenience. In hindsight we see that they eroded our communities, damaged downtowns, promoted dependence on car travel and altered our working and natural landscapes. We are researching why businesses choose to locate in strip malls, why developers build them and why people shop and do business there. The resulting white paper will address ways in which we can improve the existing strip malls, making them more pedestrian-friendly community centers, while sustaining the economic benefits to businesses. Three specific strips were selected as demonstration sites to apply the findings included in the white paper.
GrowSmart Maine continues to advocate for bills and bonds that advance economic prosperity and protects Maine’s quality of place. In 2008, GrowSmart Maine played a key role in the design and passage of the Historic Preservation Tax Credit. As a result of the tax credit, the value of historic rehabilitation activity increased from $7 million in 2007 to $40 million in 2011. This year alone, tax credit-sponsored historic rehabilitation will support nearly 800 Maine jobs and $30 million in income. During the current legislative session we have advocated for removal of the sunset clause of the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, originally set for January 1, 2013. We have also advocated for the retention of the Uniform Building and Energy Code, designed to provide a consistent, statewide regulatory process; the continued ban on billboards and other legislation that undermines smart growth or threatens our quality of place.
Over the past several years, GrowSmart Maine has been working with developers, community planners, regulatory bodies and other stakeholders to identify and remove obstacles that deter adoption of smart growth principles. One such obstacle is the DEP site review law which was designed to protect the environment but has proven to work against the very protections it desired. The Legislature’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee (ENR) asked GrowSmart Maine to convene a group of stakeholders affected by the site review law to review proposed changes and make recommendations that allow developers to better meet market demand and ensure appropriate environmental oversight of significant developments.