The Republican Journal: Big boxes, bigger debates, biggest Maine lineup of Celtic performers
Belfast, Maine may be home to the state's longest-running big-box debate, but starting July 19 it will through debate to the side in favor of celebrating
Big-box retail stores have been the bone of contention of Belfast business for more than a decade.
And the beat goes on.
On June 26, 2007 Republican Journal Editor Dan Dunkle encouraged voters to be heard in the latest editorial to draw reader attention to the public process that helps shape the look of private business.
Be heard on the Big Box Issue!
Once again, Wal-Mart has expressed interest in building a store in Belfast.
The city contacted a number of retailers and Wal-Mart was the only one to show interest. It even sent representatives to discuss bringing a store to Route 3. Target and TJ Maxx failed to return the city's phone calls.
Wal-Mart is interested in building a 140,000- to 176,000-square-foot store in Belfast, which would include a 60,000-square-foot grocery section.
Councilors asked new City Manager Joseph Slocum to contact more retailers and gave him a two-week deadline.
Councilor Cathy Heberer said she will propose a referendum vote on a retail zone for big box stores if the council fails to resolve the issue in a reasonable amount of time.
We question the value of another referendum vote on the issue.
You have Councilor Roger Lee saying, "I won't rezone so that a Lowe's or a Wal-Mart can build a 140,000-square-foot store. The city voted by a 2-to-1 margin in favor of a 75,000-square-foot cap on the west side."
Councilor Robert Gordon retorted that the voters later approved a 200,000-square-foot limit on retail store size in a zone on the city's east side.
So there you have it. The city votes one way on this issue at one time and another way at another time. We could argue that the vote to enact the size cap was a long time ago, and that people didn't know then that no smaller stores would step forward to fill the shopping void in the city.
It could also be argued that the east side isn't a great location for a big box store.
If the city votes again on this issue, it should be the last vote. It should be final. We fear that it would just be another battle in the ongoing war over retail, followed by another vote later or a lawsuit of some kind. Eventually, the city government needs to make a decision.
The other question is, do we trust the City Council to make this decision for us?
The council is under tremendous pressure on this issue, which has dominated Belfast politics for too long.
The public needs to help them out.
You do that by calling your councilor, by sending letters to the editor, by speaking out at public meetings, by making your voice heard. Call the new city manager today and tell him what you think.
The council needs to know where you stand.
Whichever side of this debate you fall on, you cannot and must not sit back in silence and expect that others will speak for you.
Do not be intimidated or bullied by people who disagree with you. Everyone has the right to their voice on this issue.
As much as the big-box debate is anchored in Belfast and its weekly newspapers, it also draws attention from Augusta, such as that of Rep. Jon McKane, a Republican Maine state Legislator from Newcastle who wrote a guest column in the most recent edition of The Republican Journal.
I beg to disagree
Some of us believe that the residents of a community ought to understand the impact of a mega-retail development before the development gets built. Some people don't. Whether you do or don't, surely you were disappointed at the inflammatory, hyperbolic and misleading editorial (6-14-07) Republican Journal. It was entitled "Giles, Legislature Vote Anti-Business." The corresponding cartoon added insult to injury.
Not only did the editorial single out Rep. Jayne Giles (R-Belfast), it was unnecessarily callous towards her and attempted to paint her as "anti-business" because she supported the "Informed Growth Act."
Giles as "anti-business" could not be further from the truth. First, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, this outstanding legislator has worked tirelessly for reduced government spending and lower taxes. Second, she has voted consistently for improving Maine's business climate by removing unnecessary regulations and easing expenses on Maine's small businesses.
LD 1810, The Informed Growth Act, the legislation that Rep. Giles was so severely chastised for supporting by the editor of this paper, simply requires that developers of new retail buildings over 75,000 square feet (very large stores) pay for an impact study. This could only be conceived as "anti-business" if you believe that a well designed and thought-out community that has the full knowledge and participation of the local residents is "anti-business."
The people who live in a community - not corporate executives - should be the ones who make the final decisions as to if, where and how, a new, large retail development gets built. By supporting the Informed Growth Act, Rep. Giles has spoken clearly that she believes her constituents should have the tools to assess the long-term ramifications of these projects and how they will affect their neighborhoods, their businesses and their environment.
It appears unlikely that the author of the editorial had carefully studied the pending legislation he so disdains. Yet he proceeded to distort the intent and possible results from this bill with absurdly unreasonable statements. Here's one example: "Now Mainers have to go without affordable household items because some people have decided to vilify the act of selling goods in department stores." Go without? Because a new "big box" store will be required to submit an impact study - something they are almost always do already? Vilify the act of selling goods in department stores? There is no villain here and no one is saying there is.
Or this one: "Contrary to what some might think, the Maine Legislature does not have a right to overturn our system of free enterprise and capitalism outright." This is hyperbole at its best - or worst. The Informed Growth Act is no more against "free enterprise and capitalism" than is a town's comprehensive plan or the state plumbing code.
And finally this: "[LD 1810 is] one of the most disturbing and anti-business votes we've witnessed in the Maine Legislature." Where, may we ask, was the editor as day after day, year after year, the Legislature has passed laws that have kept Maine one of the most "business unfriendly" states in the country?
The editor of a newspaper has a great responsibility to not only report the truth but to give intelligent and honest opinions based on the truth without exaggerated, misleading statements or partisanship. Let's hope that the editor of the Republican Journal returns to his previous good work and continues to inform and enlighten his readers and refrain from demagoguery.
The waterfront city that took its name from across the Atlantic will put retail debate aside and celebrate its Irish heritage the weekend of July 19-22 with its first Maine Celtic Celebration. More than a dozen musical groups are scheduled to perform.
- By: Lorie Costigan