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2004-10-24
Belfast, ME. Residents Seek To Defeat Big Box Zone Referendum

On November 2nd in Belfast, Maine, they'll be counting more than Presidential ballots, as the city deals with a referendum on the future of big box developments. On the surface, it appears that local residents initiated the ballot question, which would create a special new commercial district on 90 acres of land along Searsport Avenue where retail stores of up to 200,000 square feet could be located. The referendum would change Belfast's comprehensive land use plan and zoning ordinance. Opponents say that the vote is just a front for Wal-Mart, which is the real force behind the vote in the first place. Whether that's true or not, the effect of the new ordinance would be to pave the way for supercenters, which would have a negative impact on existing businesses in town, and make a bad traffic situation on Route 1 even worse. Wal-Mart has not admitted that it has any designs on Belfast. There is already a Wal-Mart store located on Route 1 in nearby Rockland. At a recent public hearing, one resident denounced the proposed new big box zone as "a blatant, shameful get-rich caper that serves special interests." Some Belfast residents decried the lack of a discount store in Belfast. But there is already a Reny's discount store, a regional Maine discounter, and the city lost an Ames store when that chain went under, due to financial pressure from defecting Wal-Mart shoppers. According to the Citizen newspaper, the overwhelming sentiment at a recent City Council hearing on the referendum was negative. Traffic along Route 1 was a major issue. "If you like the Renys intersection now, you'll love big boxes," one resident said. Former city councilor Mike Towey told the audience that a 150,000 s.f. store would have sales equal to 25% of the sales of all businesses in Waldo County, leading to economic dislocation, not economic development. Jim Roberts, who is running for City Council on the same ballot, said Belfast should avoid creating "an asphalt jungle." The referendum has formally been opposed by the Belfast Planning Board and the Comprehensive Plan Committee.

What you can do: This is not the first time that Belfast has taken on the big box issue. In June of 2001, Belfast First led an effort to put a cap on retail stores of 75,000 s.f. That cap is what prompted developers to try to do an end run around the 2001 vote by creating a new district for big boxes. The 2001 vote to put a cap on buildings won easily in Belfast. For local contacts with the group Belfast First, which opposes the referendum, contact info@sprawl-busters.com. For earlier stories on this city, search Newsflash by "Belfast."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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