House retreats, changes local petitions bill

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AUGUSTA – The House reversed course Thursday night and submitted, at least for the moment, to a Senate bill that would tighten restrictions on a community’s ability to oppose development projects.

On Wednesday, the House changed the limitations proposed by the Senate, making it easier for voters and towns to change land use ordinances after permits have been issued.

On Thursday, the Senate refused the new language and sent the bill back to the House, where the members had the option to retreat or stand firm on the vote from the day before.

It retreated, 78-68.

The vote opens the bill to possible amendment, which Rep. Herb Adams, D-Portland, warned could tie up the House indefinitely.

“Do we really want to shake up that bottle?” he asked, warning that there were more amendments waiting than faced the state budget when it was passed earlier this year.

The bill will return to the Senate, but the House will get another crack at it, and Speaker John Richardson indicated Thursday night that other amendments would be considered at that point.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn either today or Saturday, but the pending workload could put that in doubt.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed L.D. 1481, which placed a 75-day time limit on a community’s ability to change its mind in regard to unwanted development projects that have already been permitted.

The House version limits petitioners to 75 days to gather signatures and present them to the municipality, but allows more time for the actual election.

It also requires voters to take out their petitions within 30 days, a move that is meant to give developers a sense of the opposition they face early in the process, said Majority Leader Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, who authored the House language.

Speaking in support of the House version of the bill, Auburn Rep. Deborah Simpson, a Democrat, said the limitations didn’t give a community enough time. “Seventy-five days won’t ever get anyone a vote in the city of Auburn,” she said.

Rep. William Walcott, D-Lewiston, used the example of methadone clinics to make his point, saying a community could find that its hands are tied even if a majority opposes the project.

“After 75 days, too bad. There’s nothing you can do about it. Forever. Forever,” Walcott said. “That’s it. Your time is up.”

Proponents of the Senate bill argue that it’s all about balancing the competing rights of developers and a community.

“I continue to believe this bill is about predictability and fairness,” said Rep. Theodore Koffman, D-Bar Harbor.

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