Damariscotta residents need to decide whether they want to welcome new development and what kind of development they want to allow.
Concern in some corners about the latest development proposal seems to focus on the possibility of chain restaurants or stores coming in.
Why do we assume this would be a negative for Damariscotta? Are all chains inherently bad?
As a small family business, we enthusiastically support other small family businesses. We think family businesses feel more of a responsibility to give back to the community because of their connection to the community.
Family businesses are a big part of the identity of this community. They employ many of our workers and support our sports teams and charitable organizations. The economic activity at family businesses supports other small family businesses.
But mom-and-pop shop or corporate giant, all commercial development grows the tax base. A town cannot live on nature preserves alone.
Several years ago, during the meetings about Piper Village and the ill-fated Damariscotta SmartCode, there was talk of a ban on chains. The ban didn’t make it into the final proposal, which voters didn’t like much anyway, but the town could revisit it.
But what constitutes a chain? Two stores? 50? 1,000? Is it about geography? Ownership? Is it just any business an existing business doesn’t want to compete with?
Renys was founded in Damariscotta and is still a family business, but it’s a “chain” of stores. Damariscotta Hardware was founded in Damariscotta almost as long ago as Renys and, likewise, remains a family business, but it has a second store now. Is it a chain?
Certainly no sane person would want to ban businesses like these, which make up an essential part of the fabric of the community and contribute greatly to the local economy. But the question of what constitutes a chain still begs an answer.
Another topic of conversation throughout the discussion about form-based codes was the desire to limit “sprawl” in Damariscotta – the strip-style development that makes one town look much the same as another and discourages pedestrian traffic.
Voters rejected form-based codes, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t revisit an attempt to limit sprawl.
Perhaps instead of a wide-reaching ordinance that would overhaul rules and regulations in the entire town and affect residential development on the outskirts as much as commercial development in the business district, the town could consider an ordinance to specifically address the potential for sprawl along the portion of Main Street from School Street to Biscay Road.
There are opportunities to shape the future of Damariscotta and we encourage Damariscotta residents to express their concerns about current development proposals and engage with the process.
But to sit back for several years, during a slow period for development, and then react to proposals as they pop up is not an effective way to shape the future of a town for the long term.
Do we want commercial development or don’t we? If we do, are the current regulations adequate to shape what future development looks like? Damariscotta residents need to answer those questions, and quickly.