Testimony of Nancy Smith, CEO of GrowSmart Maine in Support of LD 1864, An Act to Increase Maine’s Housing Supply by Prohibiting Certain Zoning Requirements in Areas Where Public Sewer and Water Infrastructure Are Available and in Designated Growth Areas
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May 19, 2023
Senator Pierce, Representative Gere and Honorable Members of the Joint Select Committee on Housing,
My name is Nancy Smith, I live in Ellsworth, and I am the CEO of GrowSmart Maine. We are a statewide non-partisan non-profit organization helping communities navigate change in alignment with smart growth. We advocate for comprehensive policies and funding for smart growth practices and outcomes.
We have partnered with Build Maine to guide a transparent crowd-sourcing of policy proposals that began a year ago, and has drawn together over a hundred people from across Maine and beyond. Policy Action 2023 has resulted in sixteen proposals from eight working groups, all addressing the shared goal, “to address barriers to and create incentives for equitable, sustainable growth and development that strengthens downtowns and villages of all sizes while pulling development pressure away from productive and open natural areas. We do so acknowledging that Maine has urban, rural, and suburban settings for which any solution may or may not be a fit and a variety of people who deserve to be welcomed to their communities.”
This testimony represents the views of both GrowSmart and Build Maine. We begin by noting that in the drafting of this bill, somehow reference was removed to its applicability ONLY to designated growth areas and those places with sufficient public sewer and water. To achieve the goal of encouraging new development only in these areas where the community has already designated for growth, this intent must be restored in amended language. The sponsor will be addressing this in his presentation of the bill.
One of the ways I discuss Policy Action 2023 comes to mind with this bill, in that some proposals offer pragmatic solutions while others are provocative and invite discussion we need to have. LD 1864 certainly falls in the “provocative” category and I hope it will prompt discussion about the need to remove barriers to appropriately sited housing development within municipal growth areas, especially those with sewer and water infrastructure with sufficient capacity to serve additional residential units.
5,000 square feet is approximately 1/10 of an acre, which is a comfortable neighborhood house lot based on typical patterns in Maine towns and villages, and for which there is strong demand. Of course some people prefer living further out of town, and this bill does nothing to prevent them from doing so. But in order to meet immediate housing needs without undoing good work underway to meet climate goals and without creating the next crisis of access to food and farmland, Maine communities must make possible these traditional lot sizes where the land and infrastructure can support them.
We acknowledge that this proposal is a further limitation on municipal authority, but it is one we think is warranted. The harsh reality is that suburban zoning applied in downtown areas is a form of protectionism that can manifest racial and social injustice as some residents may seek to limit options for people who cannot afford larger homes on large land parcels. As we’ve stated in other testimony, change is hard and it’s human nature to push back against it. Planning boards across the state are getting beaten back by a vocal minority, and changing the rules at the state level will alleviate that pressure.
To address a few specific questions we have heard:
- Our intention in referencing water/sewer infrastructure is to mirror the language in LD 2003 from last session for ease of implementation and consistency.
- Adequacy of service would be determined by the municipality, as with any other project.
- The section on impact fees is intended to state that the municipality may assess current impact fees, but not greater.
Public dollars have been invested in infrastructure to support smart growth, yet local zoning ordinances are a barrier to achieving the State’s goals of compact settlements while protecting and preserving open spaces. The costs of sprawl were highlighted in a Maine State Planning Office Report from 1997, which called for local Planning Boards to adopt the needed zoning changes, but many communities have not taken action.
In addition to the Policy Action 2023 Fact Sheet for this bill, I am attaching two GrowSmart Maine Community Guides: What is Sprawl, Creeping Costs of Sprawl and Great American Neighborhoods as further context for your consideration. These and other Community Guides may be found here: https://growsmartmaine.org/resources-for-your-community/
Thank you for your consideration.