DAMARISCOTTA, Maine – Two Maine municipalities have been chosen for a nationwide program designed to put community planning back in the hands of local residents.
The Orton Family Foundation of Vermont chose Damariscotta and Biddeford to receive $100,000 each to help them strengthen their “unique spirit of place as they face growth and change.”
Also among the first communities to be chosen for the Orton program are Golden, Colo., and Victor, Idaho. Each of the communities has fewer than 23,000 people.
The foundation has committed $10 million in cash and staff over the next five years in a major new initiative to stem the tide of “anywhere USA” development.
Friends of Midcoast Maine in Camden will serve as the manager for the Damariscotta project, said Jane Lafleur of Friends of Midcoast Maine.
“They wanted to choose two towns in New England and two in the West,” she said of the foundation.
“The selectmen of Damariscotta completed the application I assisted with that,” she said.
The launch for the project will take place in September or October, Lafleur said.
“It’ s called the Heart and Soul Planning Process,” she said. “I’ ll have an office in town and be there two days a week working with the Damariscotta planning advisory committee, the planning board and local residents,” she said.
Her responsibility lies with Damariscotta only, and she has nothing to do with the Biddeford project, she added.
The program would help Damariscotta find ways to tap into public opinion and learn what people really value in the community, she said. The information gleaned would then go into the town’ s long-range planning.
“We have a series of tasks that we would like to undertake,” she said, citing the example of Story Corps, an independent nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate people’ s lives through personal recordings by longtime residents. Their stories could become part of a community’ s comprehensive plan, she said.
For decades, most planning has been from the top down, with economic growth a driving force behind many land use decisions, Lyman Orton, board chairman and founder of the foundation, said in a press release.
“We should challenge the single-minded notion that if it’ s good for the economy, approve it,” Orton said. “After all, are we just an economy, or are we a society?”
While growth sustains towns, it can lead to disastrous results without the awareness of empowered residents with a strong identity, he added.
The Orton Family Foundation, based in Middlebury, Vt., serves cities and towns with fewer than 50,000 in population in the Northeast and Rocky Mountain West. It was created in 1995 by Orton, owner of the Vermont Country Store in Rockingham, Vt., and is supported with profits from the store.