Testimony of Nancy Smith, CEO of GrowSmart Maine in Support of LD 1934, “Resolve, to Improve the Coordination and Delivery of Planning Grants and Technical Assistance to Communities in Maine”
May 25, 2023
Senator Nangle, Representative Stover and Honorable Members of the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government,
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 seventeen 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 bill aligns with conversations in two working groups, and with the sponsor’s permission, have added LD 1934 to our list of Policy Action 2023 Legislative proposals.
This testimony represents the views of GrowSmart and Build Maine. Both enthusiastically endorse this Resolve as an essential step in ensuring Maine communities can address the immediate housing crisis without undermining work being done to address the climate crisis and not create the next crisis in access to food and farmland.
Maine has recognized the damage done by over a decade of neglect in land use planning and implementation resources at municipal, regional, and statewide levels. We endorse this proposal as an important step in reshaping and recommitting to this capacity at all levels. As we work to establish a stronger land use planning structure at the state level, we also think it is important to prioritize outcomes-based planning. To that end, we suggest the following modifications to the bill:
- Expand the language to include not just planning grants and technical assistance, but also implementation and project funding. This will create stronger support for critical local implementation projects that require state coordination across agencies and with municipalities in order to get off the ground.
- Align not just program funding, but also regulatory processes, such as MaineDOT Traffic Movement Permits, DEP Site Location of Development Review, Stormwater permits, and other state level regulatory controls to prioritize critical projects that respond to state and local goals to help advance shared goals and projects.
In addition to our smart growth policy work, GrowSmart Maine leads the Policy Committee in the Maine Broadband Coalition. We also house the Kennebec Broadband Partnership through the Maine Connectivity Authority; one of thirteen such regional and tribal partnerships developing and deploying a statewide digital equity plan.
Through these connections, we recommend that the Maine Connectivity Authority be included in the list of agencies to this planning review and coordination process. The community work they lead on with LD 1934’s focus on community planning capacity in two ways:
- Communities are beginning to ask for guiding language to include broadband planning in comprehensive planning.
- GrowSmart has long advocated for communities to consider what rules they will have in place so that, as they bring broadband to remote existing locations, they can ensure that new development is directed to those parts of town where the community has determined they want it. This prevents sprawling growth that adds to both municipal and household costs.
- Sprawling growth also risks creating additional demand for federal funding available to serve existing homes that are not connected to expand broadband service. Federal rules permit public funds for broadband expansion to be spent on newly constructed locations that are built beyond the reach of broadband infrastructure. Such construction reduces the federal funds available to connect existing rural homes and businesses.
Also noteworthy as the Committee considers this bill, is the newly released NDIA State Digital Equity Plan Toolkit. This resource provides recommendations for building a digital equity plan that works for each community. Their outline includes many community planning steps such as robust public engagement, collaboration, SWOT analysis, and the value of a core planning team.
Broadband deployment and digital equity are most effectively accomplished when integrated in and coordinated with broader planning efforts. Many of the regional planning and development groups referenced in this resolve are also actively engaged in broadband expansion and equity work, affirming that this addition makes sense.
GrowSmart and Build Maine will assist the committee in any way that is helpful and have attached to our testimony a redline version of suggested edits to the bill.