Economic Impact Review – Westbrook, ME

In 2005, following a heated debate over a proposed big-box store, the town of Westbrook, Maine, adopted a zoning provision that require retail projects of 10 acres or more to undergo an economic impact analysis.

The new rules stipulate that the city shall choose a qualified independent consultant to conduct the analysis and the developer shall cover the cost. The study must evaluate the proposed store’s impact on employment, existing businesses, municipal finances, the amount of money retained and redirected into Westbrook’s economy, social services, and nearby residential neighborhoods.

The Planning Board must consider the study in deciding whether to approve or reject the project. It must make a specific finding as to the store’s impact on the community and its compliance with several sections of Westbrook’s comprehensive plan, including a provision that calls for “the development of neighborhood commercial areas that meet the retail and service needs of the residential areas at a compatible scale and intensity.”

The project that prompted the zoning measure was a 203,000-square-foot Wal-Mart supercenter. A grassroots group called Westbrook Our Homefought the development and eventually won passage of a law that limits retail stores to 160,000 square feet. Rather than build a smaller store, Wal-Mart opted to drop its plans.

Westbrook is a town of 16,000 just west of the city of Portland.


Excerpt from Westbrook’s zoning code:

(3) Impact Analysis

The Planning Board will require an impact analysis to be conducted by a qualified consultant retained by the City at the applicant’s expense. In addition to the standards found in section 507 of the Site Plan Review Ordinance, the study shall assess and provide data on the following:

(a) Data Desciption: The same data must be provided by the analysis as that stated in Section 507(A) of the Site Plan Review Ordinance.

(b) Impact Analysis: The consultant also must conduct an analysis of and provide data on the following:

(i) Estimated economic impact on the City of Westbrook including,

  • Employment,
  • Businesses,
  • Municipal tax revenues,
  • Project generated revenue retained and redirected into Westbrook’s economy,
    General assistance resources, and
  • Social services.

(ii) A proposed project’s impact on residentially zoned occupied property within 500 feet of the proposed development.

Once the Study has been completed, the consultant in conjunction with the Department of Planning, Engineering and Code Enforcement shall present it to the Planning Board for review and comment. The Planning Board may ask for additional information or comments from other community agencies. The consultant shall use the information, data, and conclusions of the Study to make recommendations on the applicant’s participation in municipal infrastructure improvements based on Section 508 of the Site Plan Review Ordinance.

In deciding whether to approve a project, the Planning Board must make a specific finding as to a project’s impact on the city, basing that finding on the analysis described in this subsection.

(4) In deciding whether to approve a project, the Planning Board must make specific findings as to a proposed development’s compliance with strategies 2.2.2., 3.3.2, and 8.2.3 of the city’s comprehensive plan.

Applicability Date: Notwithstanding any other provision of law and to the maximum extent permitted by law, this ordinance amendment, if and when adopted, shall relate back in time, and be applicable to, any project, development or land use application that has not had substantive review of such application, within the meaning of 1 M.R.S.A. § 302, as of August 2, 2004.

(Ord. of 08-15-05)


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Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which produces research and designs policy to counter concentrated corporate power and strengthen local economies.