It’s deja-vu all over again. LD 1481, the controversial bill to limit Maine’s coveted citizen referendum process, will again be up for vote in Augusta any day now. A reincarnation of legislation sponsored by Ed Suslovic when he was a state representative in 2003, this version drastically limits not only grassroots referenda to retroactively nix a development, but also bars local government from altering or stopping a development after a permit has been granted.
LD 1481 says that, if a developer has obtained a “municipal permit, zoning permit, subdivision approval, or site plan approval” (wording so vague it includes some permits which do not require a public hearing) the “municipality may not nullify or amend” that permit after 30 days. After a month, you’d better get used to your Wal-Mart.
Current law protects a development from a municipal diss only after construction has begun.
This bill is bad for you if you plan to get hot and bothered about a big box or any other kind of building after it gets any type of official go-ahead from your city or town. It is good if you plan on constructing a big box or any other kind of building and you want a predictable planning process to make sure your investment breaks ground on schedule.
Supporters, including the Maine State Housing Authority and the majority of the State and Local Government Committee which endorsed the bill on January 26, say LD 1481 is necessary to encourage affordable housing development in Maine. They say affordable-housing developers are spooked by events like 2003’s Dunstan Crossing referendum in Scarborough, in which residents voted in an emergency referendum to block a 150-acre, multi-unit development after the town had given the developers final approval.
Phone calls to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Lynn Bromley (D-South Portland), were not returned prior to press time.
LD 1481 was tabled last legislative session after the Attorney General’s office said it was unconstitutional because, essentially, citizens’ initiatives can’t be singled out for restriction (see “Your Government,” May 6, “Update on Your Veto,” May 20, “Continuing Story,” June 10, and “Legislative Finale,” June 17, all by Sara Donnelly). But this time around the AG’s office is fine with the rewritten bill: The wording now restricts not only the citizens’ right to repeal but also the municipality’s. Basically, as long as everyone is told to sit down and shut up, it’s cool.
Like its past incarnations, this version of the bill has some heady opposition in a state which is distinguished by a much-ballyhooed constitutional right to petition. Opponents include the old standards who fought past incarnations — representative Herb Adams (D-Portland), senator Peggy Rotundo (D-Lewiston), Portland lawyer Peggy McGehee, and the advocacy group the Maine People’s Alliance — as well as the Maine Municipal Association (which finds the bill’s limit on municipal authority “disturbing”) and the city of Portland.