September 21st Gubernatorial Forum on Quality of Place at the Historic Bangor Opera House

-Lock Kiermaier, Policy Outreach Coordinator, GrowSmart Maine

On the evening of September 21st, as part of a coalition of 11 non-profit organizations with a distinct commitment to Quality of Place (QoP), GrowSmart Maine helped to sponsor, organize and present the first ever gubernatorial forum on Quality of Place issues that was held at the Historic Bangor Opera House, home of Penobscot Theatre. All five of the gubernatorial candidates who will be listed on the November statewide ballot were invited to attend the forum. Kevin Scott (Independent) , Libby Mitchell (Democrat), Shawn Moody (Independent) and Eliot Cutler (Independent) participated in the forum and Paul LePage (Republican) was not able to participate due to a previous commitment.

The forum was organized and sponsored by GrowSmart Maine, Maine Preservation, Environmental Funders Network, Maine Downtown Center, Maine Conservation Voters Education Fund, The Trust for Public Land, Maine Rural Partners, Healthy Community Coalition, Maine Farmland Trust, Maine Downtown Coalition, Bicycle Coalition of Maine, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine. These non-profit organizations have been working since last spring to present this forum. Ms. Carol Coultas, Editor of Mainebiz, was selected as a non-partisan moderator.

The forum began at 5 PM with a reception sponsored by Bangor Greendrinks and catered by Anne Marie’s Kitchen of Bangor. The reception offered an opportunity to meet the candidates before the forum. Over 125 attendees gathered in the auditorium at 6 PM to hear the candidates debate. The forum started with welcoming remarks and introduction of the moderator by Ms. Lynne Seeley, Chair of the Environmental Funders Network and member of the GrowSmart Maine Board of Directors.

The format of the forum consisted of five questions, each to be answered within two minutes, with five follow-up questions having the same two minute answer period. Each candidate had been provided with a briefing and written materials on Quality of Place issues by coalition members during the weeks leading up to the forum. None of the candidates had been provided with the actual questions prior to the forum.

Question 1

QUALITY OF PLACE AS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The brand of Maine is known throughout the world, and is used to promote tourism and private industry, but perhaps is under-valued in the realm of economic development. What do you see as the state's role in protecting Quality of Place, and capitalizing on the Maine brand in job creation?

Follow-up Question from Moderator: Would you have supported LD 1839, the Quality of Place bill, in its original form requiring regional economic development groups to enhance QoP in their projects to get preferential consideration for state grants (all candidates supported the revised version encouraging, not requiring, QoP initiatives.)

Question 2

PUBLIC RIGHT TO PRIVATE PROPERTY

Maine has a long-standing and unique relationship between private landowners and recreationists; centuries of tradition and culture have created an open-land expectation of private property.
At the same time, property owners have little incentive to expose themselves to damage caused by disrespectful recreationists and the amount of private land posted to restrict public access in Maine is on the rise. Spending by recreationists supports the Maine economy as well as many regional economies. With 94% of Maine land privately owned, how would you help ensure that Maine people are able to continue enjoying public access to private land, and that private landowners are protected from abusive behavior so that this unique tradition continues?

Follow-up Question from Moderator: Does the change in ownership of so much land – from paper companies to land development companies – change the dynamic of open access and does that represent opportunities for Maine?

Question 3

TRANSPORTATION/ REGIONAL SMART GROWTH PLANNING

Communities and regions in Maine have opportunities to promote Quality of Place by minimizing sprawl and focusing development according to smart growth principles. These practices protect place-based rural heritage while promoting growth in village centers, downtowns, and city centers.
These ‘smart-growth’ development patterns enable a transportation system that connects Maine families to the places they live, work, shop and play while also creating more opportunities to walk, bike, or take public transportation. How would you encourage more smart growth and promote more bicycling and walking in Maine?

Follow-up Question from Moderator: If a town has the opportunity to land a development with 75 new jobs, but the developer wants to build on the outskirts of town contradicting smart-growth planning, how do you weigh those decisions?

Question 4

DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION/ HISTORIC PRESERVATION

Since November 2008, projects investing more than $100 million in private dollars using the historic rehabilitation tax credits have been initiated in Maine in downtown areas and Main Street communities.
Vibrant downtowns with historic character can be powerful economic growth engines. They attract young people, cultural amenities, and creative economic ventures, mitigate sprawl, reuse existing infrastructure and preserve built and natural amenities and working landscapes.
How would you encourage more historic preservation projects in Maine’s downtowns and village centers?

Follow-up Question from Moderator: Two years ago, the state modified the historic preservation tax credits by upping the percent a developer can capture in the credits and raising the cap from $100,000 to $5 million. Does it need further tweaking?

Question 5

BUSINESS REGULATIONS

An application to build a Wal-Mart in Thomaston will likely test Maine’s Informed Growth Act, a new law that requires big box developers to pay for a comprehensive economic impact study before a project can be approved. When passed, the law was hailed as a milestone for smart growth development, but some people lamented the additional regulation and predicted the act would stymie retail development and cost jobs.
The issue is one of many that highlights the divide among economic development philosophies. As governor, what is your development philosophy, and what are your two top priorities as you consider how –and even whether – to integrate smart-growth principles with conventional development?

Follow-up Question from Moderator: Inconsistent and redundant regulations are complaints I hear from the business community (cited examples in fish landings and industrial park development) that lead to the law of unintended consequences – dislocated workers and sprawl, in the examples I cited. How do you rein in those unintended consequences?

In general, all of the candidates at the forum expressed support for the importance of the concept of Quality of Place for the next gubernatorial administration. A brief summation of the points made by each candidate is as follows:

Shawn Moody:

• The unique qualities that Maine has are essential for the state’s future development under the leadership of the next governor and will require a collaborative effort that builds on the Maine brand;
• Does not favor the imposition of state smart growth requirements on a local level;
• It will be crucial to maintain public access to private property through relationships built on trust and respect; there is great potential for developing shared public interest in this field;
• The recent use of CAD technology by the Town of Standish holds great promise as a tool that could be used for effective smart growth planning;
• Mobilize Maine is an example of an organization that can provide an analysis of the state’s existing resources with a focus on the model of small business as a template for appropriate smart growth;
• Strongly in favor of the continued use of the state historic tax credit and feels that it encourages economic development that directly emanates from residents of the state and benefits that same population;
• There is a crucial need to differentiate between the need for unnecessary spending and needed investment of state funds; resources that are effective in establishing and promoting small business growth are investments that need to be maintained; and
• Smart growth is a prudent strategy that should be reflected in a collaborative regulatory permitting process; the regulatory framework should be a predictable environment in which small businesses can thrive.

Libby Mitchell:

• As elements of a Quality of Place strategy, the next governor will need to provide good stewardship of the environment, promote tourism, encourage sustainable agriculture, think creatively about the need for economic development and promote downtown revitalization;
• Does not favor the imposition of state smart growth requirements on a local level but stressed the need for appropriate state leadership in this realm;
• There is a long state tradition of a cooperative understanding on the use of private lands for public access and supports the continuation of the Land for Maine’s Future program as a means of providing public access;
• Supports the recent Maine Forest Initiative as an example of a smart growth process and cites the need for similar programs to promote farmland preservation and continued public dialog;
• Cited the need for the next governor to promote a thoughtful smart growth oriented planning process that focuses on cost;
• The Historic Tax Credit only became effective with the amendment that authorized that these tax credits would be refundable and cited the example in which the authorized, but non-refundable, tax credits provided for the Augusta Arsenal were not effective in furthering the redevelopment of that facility; the historic tax Credit is not likely to be expanded by the next legislature;
• Proposed merging the Department of Economic & Community Development with the State Planning office to further encourage smart growth oriented economic development; and
• The regulatory process needs to be made more transparent so as to more easily correct mistakes.

Eliot Cutler:

• The Maine brand is not a new idea but is firmly rooted in the way of life in this state; the importance of the brand lies in the very nature of our shared responsibility as Maine citizens;
• The next governor needs to focus on making economic development possible through the use of careful strategic planning;
• There is simply not enough state funds for significant additions to programs like Land For Maine’s Future; it will be the next governor’s responsibility to conceptualize a template to make easements for public access to private lands practical;
• The new dynamic for private ownership of large parcels of land has been the motivation to work towards strategic sustainability of the forest resources;
• There is a lack of fiscal resources for basic transportation infrastructure in the state and a new approach is needed towards solving this fundamental problem; there is a need to tear down the “Wall of No”;
• There is also a fundamental need to significantly reform the tax structure to properly encourage fundamental economic development;
• In addition, the next governor will have to address the cost of living and doing business in the state which is simply too high. This problem cannot be solved by more government spending but rather the focus should be on making the state a place where capital investment is thriving;
• Neither the cost or effectiveness of the state’s many tax credit programs has ever been properly evaluated; the ineffective tax credit programs need to be eliminated to help close the state’s budget gap; and
• There is a significant need to make the state regulatory environment more predictable; proposes to establish a regulatory review unit within the Governor’s office to ensure smart rules and to avoid unintended consequences of poorly conceived rules.

Kevin Scott:

• The state role in Quality of Place is very important; the appropriate partnership to achieve Quality of Place can be achieved by meaningful leadership by the governor;
• Does not favor the imposition of state smart growth requirements on a local level;
• Favors a meaningful process of public dialog that features incremental steps to implement programs like Land for Maine’s Future;
• The state has a great potential for shared public interest to resolve issues like public access to private lands;
• There is a tremendous need for smart growth planning when the funds become available;
• Each community needs to be realistic about setting expectations for the redevelopment of existing facilities; the redevelopment planning process should incorporate high tech innovations with necessary tradeoffs to accomplish targeted objectives;
• The state needs to champion the concept of return on investment to further competition and to encourage research and development initiatives;
• Smart growth principles need to be integrated through appropriate planning and the recognition of existing expertise within the state; and
• To avoid unintended consequences to various businesses and professions, the state regulatory environment needs to be shifted away from the “one size fits all” approach.

The forum was videotaped in its entirety by Bronson Communications and it is hoped that the video will be available on-line in the near future and there is a strong possibility that the video will be broadcast by several media outlets.

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