Maine House passes bill allowing towns to opt in to big-box law

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AUGUSTA — The Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow municipalities to opt in to the state’s Informed Growth Act law.

The House voted 90-59, mostly along party lines.

Twelve Democrats voted with the Republican majority.

Current law requires developers of so-called big-box retail projects to commission independent studies weighing the adverse impacts of the developments on local business and infrastructure.

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Opponents of the law argue the law discourages business growth. Supporters say the 2007 law provides communities valuable information about the potential effects of large-scale retail projects.

Originally, LD 322 sought an outright repeal of the law. It was amended to allow communities to opt in to the law.

Most Democrats opposed the amended legislation, arguing that it essentially acted as a repeal.

Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, said the bill would pit small towns against each other and allow large retailers like Walmart to shop for favorable ordinances.

Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, said the law was an antiquated approach that stymied business development.

“What do Shakespeare and the Informed Growth Act have in common?” Harvell said. “They both belong in the 16th century.”

Harvell said the law would have prevented companies like Ford from growing had it been in effect at that time.

“If this act existed 100 years ago we would all be here today on horseback,” he said.

Rep. Bradley Moulton, R-York, said the law was simply too strict, adding that a project could fail if it failed two of the 11 judging criteria.

“At least in baseball, you get three strikes,” Moulton said.

The Maine Fair Trade Campaign urged lawmakers to keep the Informed Growth Act, arguing that the law leveled the playing field for towns and equipped them with tools to evaluate whether large-scale retail developments were the right fit or would hurt local businesses and stress infrastructure.

The Maine Municipal Association opposed the Informed Growth Act. The organization, which represents most Maine municipalities, said the law stripped towns of local control.

The Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee voted 10-3 to approve the amended bill. Three Democrats voted with the Republican majority.

The House vote means the bill will now go to the Senate for a vote.

Gov. Paul LePage had originally called for a repeal of the Informed Growth Act.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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