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2004-11-04
Belfast, ME. Ordinance to Allow Big Boxes Narrowly Passes

Big corporate special interests squeaked out a shallow victory on November 2nd. in Belfast, Maine. This community has already passed a zoning code to limit the size of retail stores. In 2001, Belfast passed a size cap by a two-to- one margin. But the big box forces are never still. Like a bad penny, they keep turning up. In the case of Belfast, voters approved by 1,970 to 1,794. The vote, which succeeded narrowly with just 52.3% of the votes cast, creates one new commercial district in Belfast that allows big box stores up to 200,000 s.f. Ironically, the man who helped initiate the vote, Lewis Baker, lost his campaign to get elected to the City Council. The only other City Council candidate in favor of big boxes, also went down in defeat. The Mayor of Belfast, Mike Hurley, also came out against the referendum, and after the vote said, "Belfast is a great city, and this isn't the end of the world." The referendum creates a new special commercial zone that comprises four lots, two of which are owned by a son and uncle of one of the key organizers of the ballot question. The citizen's group Belfast First, which organized the size cap victory three years ago, campaigned against the special big box zone. Wal-Mart, which unsuccessfully tried to locate in Belfast in 2000, has expressed no public interest in the new zone. If just 89 votes had changed, the measure would have gone down in defeat.

What you can do: During the hearing stage of this referendum, most people who showed up for the hearings were strongly against its passage, and those in favor of big boxes who ran for election were defeated, yet the measure still passed. The issue of financial self-interest on the proponent's part was a common complaint during the campaign. According to the Village Soup newspaper, one of the sponsors of the vote urged the City Council to "act quickly," arguing that "you never know what will happen in the future." But the new council is not supportive of the new zone, so what will happen with the land is still uncertain. In many states, binding citizen initiatives on zoning issues are not legal.










 
 
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