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Press Release: " GrowSmart Maine Testifies on LD 1798, “An Act To Reform Land Use Planning in the Unorganized Territory”

PRESS RELEASE

February 16, 2012
GrowSmart Maine
309 Cumberland Avenue
Suite 202
Portland, ME 04101
207.699.4330
CONTACT: Nancy E. Smith

 

 

Testimony of Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine

on LD 1798,  

An Act To Reform Land Use Planning in the Unorganized Territory

February 16, 2012

 

Senator Sherman , Representative Edgecomb, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry.  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 organization working at the intersection of economic development, land conservation, and community revitalization. 

We believe this bill, in many respects, is a well-grounded, thoughtful proposal that strengthens Maine’s economy while protecting the unique natural and working landscapes.  When land use planning is done thoughtfully, with a focus on balance and additional attention where there is potential for conflict, we can provide for economic growth without risking the unique character of the area.

We support most of the proposal outlined in LD 1798, with great appreciation for the efforts of the people who served on the LURC commission and those who attended the numerous meetings held across the state.  As we look to redesign the Land Use Regulation Commission, the challenge is to incorporate both the local and regional perspective.   Some residents of the UT believe their voice has not been heard, and they are looking for acknowledgement that their statements have been respected in the outcome of this legislation. 

Your charge is to plan for the next forty years in this region by crafting the best and most effective planning and permitting agency for a region of statewide and even national significance, due to the sheer size of this mostly forested area.

For the most part, the study committee members have proposed a strong model for providing planning and permitting services in an effective way.  I know that specifics are of most value at this point, so allow me to outline some components of the bill we support, and then to state the modifications we believe are necessary for this significant change in Maine’s unorganized territories to fulfill its potential for the long term.

We support the following aspects of the bill:

-         Page 1, Purpose and scope:  We believe the edited language integrates long term, sustainable economic growth with strong environmental protections.

-         Page 4 line 8:  It is appropriate to require meetings be held in the jurisdiction or other convenient location.

-         Page 5, line 23 through end of that section: Replacing “discernible as having patterns of intensive development” with “areas appropriate for…development” is acceptable only when paired with the language in lines 29-31, requiring designated subdistricts and performance standards.

-         Page 13, Sec. 24:  We fully support the process for a comprehensive regional land use plan that integrates economic development, strengthening existing communities, and conservation efforts.

We do not support, or have recommended changes to a few aspects of the bill as drafted, and urge the committee to make the following changes to ensure this bill will most effectively achieve its stated goals:

-         Page 3, Line 19: Service as a County Commissioner should be considered an incompatible office for simultaneous service as LUPC commissioner.  A County Commissioner is elected to represent the interests of the County, while the LUPC commissioner is expected to weigh in on site-specific permitting and appeal issues.  It is very likely that conflicts between these two roles will occur.

-         Page 3, Section 2:   Additional language should be added to bring County appointments into compliance with existing process for Legislative review and Senate confirmation.  This will help to ensure that only highly qualified and fully vetted candidates serve in this important capacity.

-         Page 4, Line 15: We recommend including adjudicatory process and Freedom of Information Act in the required training for commissioners.

-         Page 7, Section 13: As this committee creates the most effective structure for land use planning and permitting strategies, it makes sense to manage the UT as a whole, under a single agency, rather than to make distinctly different government agencies along County lines.  I urge you to remove the County opt out provision.  With County representation to comprise 6 of 9 seats, there is no need to provide an exit strategy from a structure in which counties will hold majority representation.  Because of the disbursed population and limited infrastructure throughout the UT, it should be viewed as a whole, with regional differentiation only when it will lead to a better outcome.

-         Page 12, Section A: Approval process for regional comprehensive plan should include a review by the County Commissioners.

-         Page 15, Section 2: The annual report should include approximate percentage of Commission’s time spent in permitting specific projects, comprehensive planning activities, and other activities.

Thank you for the opportunity to present these remarks.   The issue is now in your hands, and I urge you to craft legislation with an eye toward the next forty years in Maine’s future. 

Please feel free to contact me with any questions regarding GrowSmart Maine’s position on LD 1798.

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