Vote blocks Wal-Mart Supercenter; Damariscotta OKs retail size cap

This story was published on March 23, 2006 on Page A5 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

DAMARISCOTTA – Voters in this midcoast town have decisively approved a zoning change designed to block plans by Wal-Mart to build a 186,000-square-foot supercenter off Route 1.

The vote Tuesday on the proposal to set a 35,000-square-foot cap on the size of retail buildings was 747 in favor and 456 opposed.

“It was a great resounding yes for Damariscotta and for affirming a vision of this town that really values the quality of life, the economic diversity and a strong, vibrant downtown,” said Eleanor Kinney, a spokeswoman for Our Town, the group that spearheaded the campaign against Wal-Mart.

Philip Serghini, a Wal-Mart representative who sought to promote support for the project, expressed disappointment at the outcome and said the company had no comment regarding future development plans in the area.

Before the vote, he said the retail giant would abandon plans for the Damariscotta supercenter if the size cap was approved.

“This cap effectively assures that working-class families in town will continue to pay very high prices for basic goods and food,” he said Wednesday. “It also means that some 400 new jobs will not be created, which would have been a big help for seasonal workers looking to supplement their income.”

Kinney said her group believes that Wal-Mart will shift its development efforts to another town in the midcoast region.

“We feel that Lincoln County is a target, and they’re looking at different properties in other towns,” she said. “These towns are very small and economically interdependent.”

The referendum was the outgrowth of a citizen initiative by residents fearful that “big box” retail development would harm small businesses in Damariscotta’s historic red-brick downtown and threaten the town’s character.

Supporters of the Wal-Mart project said the proposed store would create jobs, generate more than $200,000 in tax revenue and provide Lincoln County residents with low-cost options for groceries and general merchandise. The nearest Wal-Mart stores are in Rockland, Brunswick and Augusta, each about 25 miles distant.

Nobleboro residents last weekend approved a six-month moratorium on commercial construction larger than 35,000 square feet. Newcastle will vote Monday on a cap similar to the one approved in neighboring Damariscotta.

Wal-Mart had obtained an option to buy land for the planned supercenter in Damariscotta.

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