Update: Bureau of Resource Information and Land Use Planning (Summer 2022)
Update from the Bureau Director!
Planning had a very good legislative session this year. The following provides an update on some significant legislative and staff changes in the 2nd regular session of the 130th Legislature.
Maine Land Use Changes in the 130th Legislative Session
There were four LDs that became public laws this year that are of significance to the planning community. There were certainly others but these were significant to the Bureau and others are likely reported on in companion articles.
LD 2003, An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions, will have significant ramifications in the areas of housing, land use, and funding for technical assistance. This summer, Jeff Levine is providing support to GOPIF, DECD, and the Speakers office on a guidance document for municipalities. I am contributing with MMA staff and Eli Rubin of the MAP Legislative Policy Committee as this important legislation is implemented in the coming months.
LD 1961, An Act To Help Alleviate Maine's Housing Shortage and Change the Membership of the Maine State Housing Authority, changed the composition of MSHA. In addition, while working with Senator Hickman on this bill, we also cleaned up the goals (§4312) of the Growth Management Act by removing conflicting language and moving language from the goals into the program elements section (§4326) of the statute. The only substantive insertion was Senator Hickman’s addition ”to ensure choice, economic diversity and affordability in housing for low-income and moderate-income households and use housing policy to help address disparities in access to educational, occupational and other opportunities”, however, the reorganization also moved implementation strategies (like downtown parking and ADUs) out of the goals and into program element guidance, appealing greatly to my sense of (planning nerd alert) order.
LD 1673, An Act To Establish Fair Housing Goals in Certain Communities in Maine, established a standard that 10% of housing be affordable in Service Center Communities and directs my Bureau to report to the legislature in February 2023 on an update to the data describing such communities. As directed by a (former) State Planning Office rule, the Service Center Community analysis must be updated every 10 years. It was last updated in 2013. Going forward it will be updated every 5 years in recognition of the accelerating world we live in and the availability of American Community Survey data, not available in 1998 when the methodology was created. Again, from an admittedly planning data nerd perspective, I think this is a great direction from the legislature and look forward to working with MSHA and others to maintain this important indicator of the vitality of the large and small urban centers across Maine.
LD 1970, An Act To Implement Agency Recommendations Relating to Sea Level Rise and Climate Resilience Provided Pursuant to Resolve 2021, Chapter 67, modified laws to clarify culvert allowances in the unorganized territories (Title 12), add definitions of local climate action plans among other things in the Growth Management Act (Title 30-A), and added consideration of sea-level rise into the determination of a development meeting the harmonious fit standard (Title 38).
New Planning Staff and Changes to the Growth Management Act
With the passage of the Governor’s supplemental budget, every one of the proposals put forward by the Bureau of Resource Information and Land Use Planning was approved. This means 10 new positions and several helpful initiatives are now supported in the budget. These include:
For the Bureau: a limited-period Senior Planner to help implement the many strategies of Maine Won’t Wait, Maine’s Four-Year Plan for Climate Action. Six out of eight of the strategies in Maine Won’t Wait have direct implications on the programs in BRILUP in community resilience, habitat protection, municipal energy efficiency, renewable energy siting, and floodplain management. We also got a limited period Secretary Associate which will greatly improve our efficiency.
For the Land Use Planning Commission: a limited-period Senior Planner to support multiple regional planning and policy initiatives, as well as complex development permit review, in the UT; an Enforcement Coordinator to help with many enforcement issues that mirror the surge in permit activity throughout the UT but especially in the Western and Greenville regions; a limited-period Mapping and Graphic Arts Specialist to support our GIS mapping upgrades; a permanent summer intern to support policy research and mentor the next generation of planning professionals; funds for a contracted engineer to help review the increase in complex development permits applications; and funds to digitize and organize our permitting records to help with subdivision history, simply finding things, and reducing paper.
For the Municipal Planning Assistance Program: permanent reinstatement of a Director for this program to provide guidance and direction on policy; a Senior Planner and Planner II, both limited-term, positions to help with the Comprehensive Plan review process, contract and grants management. With this infusion of staff, I hope to open up the Growth Management Law and its rules to realize improvements and 21st Century planning techniques. I also want to reinstate the technical assistance programming and library that has been so useful in the past.
For the Land for Maine’s Future Program: a Senior Planner and Paralegal to support the existing 3-person staff to spend the $40 million dollars approved for land acquisition in last year’s budget. Permanent funding for the Conservation Registry to keep track of those easement and public land holdings.
For the Maine Geological Survey: Two permanent interns to help with many field season responsibilities; funds to expand and improve the statewide groundwater monitoring network.
For the Maine Natural Areas Program: Allocation of funds to assist in maintaining a statewide inventory of at-risk species and habitats, performing environmental reviews, and providing information to various landowners to guide land management, development, conservation actions, and acquisitions.
DACF was also approved for a Department-wide GIS Manager to coordinate and support all bureaus and be the interface between MEGIS and Maine IT on database and geographic information systems. There are many other initiatives within DACF particularly to address the large and complex PFAS issue.
I will try to build as strong a team as I can with this support in service to the people of Maine. So, watch the job boards and let me know if you can recommend anyone who is looking for rewarding and impactful work.
Welcome Joan Walton!
Finally, please welcome Joan Walton, our new Senior Planner who will be administering the Regional Planning Council contracts and the Coastal Community Grant program. Joan brings 35 years of experience to this position and we are delighted to have her join the Municipal Planning Assistance Program team.
Judy East, Bureau Director, Bureau of Resource Information and Land Use Planning, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry
Judy has 33 years of experience working across disciplines at the local, regional and state levels in New York and New England, the last 21 years in rural Maine. This service has included community development, climate vulnerability assessment and resilience planning, transportation and infrastructure planning and development, including cellular and broadband infrastructure planning, and multiple issues in land use planning and local regulation.