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. We made that connection and helped Maine develop a comprehensive strategy to promote sustainable growth with the 2006 release of “Charting Maine’s Future”.
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 know that when Maine’s economy, environment and communities are working well and working together, we succeed as a state. 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. In 2012, we published an update to the Brooking’s Report, Charting Maine’s Future – Making Headway, highlighting the success stories that have resulted from the Action Plan in 2006.
Making Headway in Your Community
Mainers love our hometowns. We know our neighbors, enjoy local stores and restaurants and gather for kids’ ballgames. We want to do all we can to ensure a strong future for our communities. For that to happen, there must be good options for work, housing and recreation and choices for how to get to and from all these activities. When residents, businesses and local government share a distinct vision for your community, you have the power to conserve the beautiful and productive natural spaces, enhance your downtown or Main Street, enable rural areas to be productive and prosperous, and save money through efficient use of existing infrastructure. Making Headway in Your Community is a searchable website that provides connections with local, regional, statewide and even national resources able to assist communities in identifying goals and completing on-the-ground projects. We are partnering with Maine Downtown Center, a program of Maine Development Foundation, by connecting Making Headway in Your Community with their online clearinghouse of projects from across Maine called My Green Downtown.
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.
Implementing the Vision – Practical Steps to Transform Commercial Strips Into Mixed-Use Centers
GrowSmart Maine 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 researched why businesses choose to locate in strip malls, why developers build them and why people shop and do business there. The resulting white paper addresses 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. In 2012 alone, tax credit-sponsored historic rehabilitation will support nearly 800 Maine jobs and $30 million in income. We advocated for removal of the sunset clause of the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, originally set for January 1, 2013; and 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.