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2006-03-22
Damariscotta, ME Voters Approve Size Cap By Large Margin

62% of the voters in Damariscotta, Maine handed a major defeat to Wal-Mart and other big box stores yesterday by placing a cap of 35,000 s.f. on retail buildings. The vote in this classic, mid-coast Maine community was 747 to 456, in one of the largest voter turnouts in town history. According to the town clerk, as many as 70% of the town's voters went to the polls. Despite Wal-Mart's spending on full-color direct mailings, t-shirts, and the creation of an "astro-roots" groups to counter the real grassroots group, Our Town Damariscotta, the voters were not swayed by big box arguments. An economic impact study commissioned by the town showed that the proposed 186,000 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore on the edge of town would generate an insignificant amount of local property taxes. In fact, the study did not even examine revenue and jobs losses that would occur at other local businesses.
The study also concluded that the people who would work at a Wal-Mart in Damariscotta could not afford to live there. Damariscotts still has a small, working downtown, with a locally-owned department store and independent pharmacy. Residents of Damariscotta have described their town as a "19th century jewel", and big box stores in such a context are incompatible. According to TV station WLBZ in Bangor, both sides had been predicting that the vote would be a tight one, but yesterday the anti-Wal-Mart vote blew the giant retailer away. The TV station quoted a Wal-Mart spokesman as saying last month that if Damariscotta passed a cap on size, his company would look for another place to locate, rather than try to challenge the vote.

What you can do: Size caps are the most straightforward, legal way to stop big box stores. When I spoke in Damariscotta about a week and a half ago, I read out the names of dozens of towns that have already placed a dimensional limit on retail stores, knowing that developers on their own will build as large as they can get away with. The Damariscotta vote is the second victory against big box sprawl in Maine in the past week, with the Nobleboro, Maine moratorium vote putting boxes on hold for six months (see story below). And on March 27th, the town of Newcastle, Maine will take up a similar cap size. These towns in Maine have taken on a regional approach to limiting building size, not allowing developers to play one town off against another. In May, the town of Thomaston, Maine will be the 4th community in the region to take up a voter limit on retail store size. Our Town Damariscotta, an all-volunteer group, waged an aggressive campaign, and the results show the hard work that went into educating their neighbors.










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

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