GrowSmart Maine Testifies Neither For Nor Against LD 695, “An Act To Amend the Site Location of Development Laws”

Testimony of Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine
Neither For Nor Against LD 695,
“An Act To Amend the Site Location of Development Laws”
March 20, 2013

Senator Boyle, Representative Welsh, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.  My name is Nancy Smith and I am the Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine. As many of you know from our previous interactions with the committee, GrowSmart Maine is a statewide non-profit membership-based organization working to grow Maine's economy, protect its distinctive character and enhance our state's quality places.   I regret that previously scheduled commitments prevent me from presenting this testimony at today’s Public Hearing.

As a part of our commitment to strengthening Maine’s economy, GrowSmart Maine is particularly enthusiastic about well-grounded proposals which seek to grow the economy in a sustainable manner while at the same time preserving our state’s unique character and quality of place. We believe this bill has the potential to do just that, with a few changes.

As Committee members may be aware, in 2011, GrowSmart Maine was asked by this committee to bring together a stakeholder group to address an issue related to Site Law Review, in LD 159.  In our role as convener, GrowSmart Maine invited a diverse group of organizations to evaluate the threshold between state and municipal oversight of regionally significant development.  The final report, included with this testimony, outlines two recommendations:

  • that growth be encouraged in designated growth areas within a municipality
  • and to fully implement existing Delegated or Capacity authority and realize optimal use of coordinated third-party delegation.

In preparing our testimony for this bill, we reached out to members of  the 2011 stakeholder group, but no consensus position was reached.  GrowSmart Maine is offering this testimony with a keen interest in determining if current law provides an appropriate balance of consistent, reasonable regulation with effective protection of both environmentally sensitive areas and locally-valued community assets.  Regulations done well can achieve both goals.
We offer the following two amendments to the bill:

Thresholds outlined in the bill are likely too large.  20,000 square feet is nearly a half-acre; the equivalent of an area 100’x200’.  

o    We propose a smaller footprint for each individual project, perhaps 5,000 – 10,000 square feet.
o    It may also be appropriate to clearly state that the exemption is for a discrete and complete project on a single parcel.  
o    In defining the size of a minor modification to a site plan, consider how this additional project fits within the overall project, perhaps limiting the size as a percentage of the existing developed site.

Offer an exemption only for projects within municipally-designated growth areas of towns with compliant comprehensive plans.  This strategy conforms with the intent of Growth Management Act to direct growth to these areas within a municipality where the residents have identified an openness to additional development.  Information related to this proposal:

o    A list of towns fitting these criteria was provided by Elizabeth Hertz of the Municipal Planning Assistance Program in the ME Dept of ACF.  She notes that beginning December 31, 2012, comprehensive plan consistency findings that are over 12 years old ‘expire’. It will be important to review which towns have current findings and which have findings that have expired to get a complete picture of the number of towns currently eligible to use this proposed exemption.
o    To the question of whether growth areas are where development is occurring, Elizabeth directed me to a GoogleEarth application on the DEP website.   Simply click on the Site and Stormwater Permit link under the Bureau of Land and Water Quality it will take you to Google Earth.  The growth area layer and the site location of development permit layer can be viewed.
o    It is worth noting that this proposal won’t accommodate natural resource sector projects such as a lumber mills or a golf course, which are likely located outside of designated growth zones.

Thank you for the opportunity to present these remarks. I will make every effort to attend the work session if that will be helpful to the Committee.