Maine becomes first state to require economic impact studies on all Big Box proposals

The Maine State Legislature has passed a bill requiring economic impact studies be done on on any Big Box proposal of over 75,000 square feet according to The Hometown Advantage web site. The informed Growth Act passed the Maine Senate last week 16-13 with bipartisan support. It had previously passed the Main House 82-49 and the Governor is expected to sign it into law.

Supporters of the bill cited studies that have shown that locally-owned businesses generate more of an economic multiplier effect than large national chains. One such study found that for every square foot of space occupied by a chain, the local economic impact is $105, compared to $179 for every square foot occupied by an independent business.

In the debate over the bill, Senator Peter Mills (R-Somerset County) said that,”helter-skelter irrational paving of our towns threatens to destroy the very qualities that draw people and investment to Maine.” Opponent’s attempts to characterize the bill as “anti-business” failed, after more than 180 small business owners from across the state endorsed the measure in letters to lawmakers.

In New York State, court decisions and regulations have limited the ability to consider economic impact as part of SEQR review. Such impact can only be considered if it can be shown that a project will have a significant impact on community character, such as the potential to cause economic blight.

In the Maine bill, every Big Box proposal will require a study paid for by the developer which will examine the potential effects on “existing businesses, jobs, wages, vacancy rates, the cost of municipal services, and the volume of sales revenue retained and reinvested in the community.” After the study is completed a special public hearing must be held after which the town may reject the proposal if the economic impact is found to be detrimental.

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