A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Good news for vibrant Maine towns and cities

As the Legislature wraps up its work in Augusta, it looks likely that three promising initiatives will be enacted as law and help foster downtown economic development, even in the midst of a construction downturn. Full disclosure: the first two of these items were action items recommended in "Charting Maine's Future," the report written by the Brookings Institution and GrowSmart Maine, my employer. We've been working hard these past couple of weeks to get these passed in the State House:

  • A newly-expanded historic preservation tax credit has the potential to change the landscape in Maine's downtowns by adding a strong incentive for developers to rehabilitate historic buildings and add affordable housing and workspace to Maine's historic downtowns and village centers. This credit is especially valuable to Maine's service center communities, which typically have disproportionately large amount of historic and underutilized buildings. Renovating this kind of space for new jobs and households will help these buildings contribute to local tax rolls and also add new economic vitality to surrounding neighborhoods.

  • A new statewide building and energy efficiency code will replace a patchwork of different codes and standards in individual Maine towns with a single, statewide standard and a statewide enforcement training program. The Brookings Institution devoted two full pages to criticizing Maine's existing building codes system as an inefficient barrier to infill development and rehabilitation work for historic buildings. The new, statewide standard will get rid of hundreds of pages' worth of code rules and regulations in towns across the state and replace them with a single, easy-to-understand standard that's similar to codes used in dozens of other states.

  • Finally, the Legislature has also given preliminary approval to a new funding bill that would direct about $3 million a year to improving the state's railways - and one of the first projects will be expanding passenger rail to Freeport and Brunswick by July 2010. A major redevelopment project in downtown Brunswick is already getting underway in anticipation of future railroad service, and the Freeport Village Station shopping complex that's under construction is named for a planned train platform next door.


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Avery Yale Kamila said...

Love your op-ed in today's Portland Press Herald!

C Neal said...

Thanks, Avery. Looks like I was even able to defuse the curmudgeonly trolls that live in the PPH comments section - a great success, all around.