The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Founders Place Campus, Bangor

In a multi-part series, exclusive to the Maine Real Estate Insider, we’ll provide an up-close look at the most notable commercial development projects of the past year that are helping to fuel Maine’s economy in terms of investment and job creation.  MEREDA is proud to recognize responsible development based upon criteria including environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, difficulty of the development, uniqueness, social impact and job creation.

Our 2019 Top 7 recipients include:

62 Spring Street, Auburn, Anew Development / Auburn Housing
Founders Place Campus, Bangor, Bangor Savings Bank / CJ Developers
Cape Arundel Cottage Preserve, Arundel, Arundel-Kennebunkport Cottage Preserve, LLC
WEX Global Corporate Headquarters, Portland, Jonathan S. Cohen – 0 Hancock Street, LLC
Hannaford Center, Hampden, Good Shepherd Food Bank
Southgate, Scarborough, Avesta Housing
Station Square, Gorham, Great Falls Construction

MEREDA’s Board intended to honor the award winners at the 35th Anniversary Gala. Originally scheduled for the end of March 2020, the Gala was postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19. Though they may have their formal award delayed, these projects have only gained practical significance as they serve their communities–especially under additional strain and stress of these unprecedented times.  We look forward to formally recognizing these recipients at a future MEREDA event.

Please join us this week in celebrating Founders Place Campus in Bangor.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Bangor Savings Bank / CJ Developers:  Bangor Savings Bank’s new corporate headquarters consists of three primary structures on a 4.8 acre downtown waterfront campus consolidated from private and public lots.  The campus consists of three buildings: 1) a 5 level 35,500 SF Corporate Headquarters in a renovated historic structure; 2) a 5 level 120,000 SF state-of-the-art Operations Center; and 3) a new 5 level, 457 space parking garage.  Particularly noteworthy is the facility’s extensive environmental systems that include 80 geothermal wells and, at nearly 1,400-panels, one of the State of Maine’s largest solar arrays covering the parking garage.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project?  

Bangor Savings Bank / CJ Developers:  Recognizing that attracting the best regional banking talent to one of the most remote urban centers of New England in a tight labor market would require providing more modern amenities, the project’s function and design was formulated to satisfy these requirements in the form of a dynamic legacy headquarter for the remainder of the 21st century.  Accordingly, the campus and facilities were planned with flexible and collaborative working environments, extensive environmental/sustainable systems and extensive and automated natural daylighting and views.

MEREDA:  That sounds like quite a process.  How long were you in the planning stages before construction started?

 Bangor Savings Bank / CJ Developers:  We were in the research and planning phase 12-18 months

MEREDA:  Tell us about the most challenging aspect of getting this project completed.

 Bangor Savings Bank / CJ Developers:  The most challenging aspect was the expedited timeframe. Bangor Savings Bank conceived of its relocation into a new headquarters in January of 2017 without determining a new location and with existing leases terminating in January of 2019.  The first prerequisite was to identify a location in the heart of downtown Bangor, where BSB was founded in 1852.  With 24 months to secure site control and permit, design and construct a new legacy campus, fast tracking the project was essential.  Within months, three adjacent properties were secured and consolidated from private and public sources and design had begun on developing the next era of founder’s vision to serve and support the City of Bangor and its residents.

MEREDA:  Something unexpected you learned along the way was….

 Bangor Savings Bank / CJ Developers:  Given the time constraints, the one thing we learned was the importance of valued business partners, such as Dunbar and Brawn, Cianbro, Sargent Corp, and all the other engineers alongside the BSB team. We had to all work toward a common goal to achieve and successfully complete a project of this size.

MEREDA:  Now that it’s complete, what feature of the project do you think makes it the most notable? 

Bangor Savings Bank / CJ Developers:  Bangor Savings Bank’s new corporate headquarters campus is prominently located on the Bangor Waterfront so as to 1) cement the future of the Bank’s headquarters in Bangor, 2) attract talent and meet the expectations of an existing workforce by adding amenities typical of an more urban environment, 3) incorporate and leverage environmentally sustainable technology into the buildings, and 4) redeveloping Bangor’s waterfront.   Ultimately, the development has brought together over 400 employees with the capacity for up to 500 professional jobs in the Bangor workforce that will spur additional business growth to the area.

Posted in Business, Member Articles, People | Leave a comment

Industrial Market Mid-Year Review

by Justin Lamontagne, CCIM, SIOR, Partner, Designated Broker at NAI The Dunham Group

How’s the market? It is the most common question asked of any commercial broker in these trying times. And, most often, the answer is “…depends”. Unlike retail and the mixed-bag office market, the industrial sector is thriving through Covid. Manufacturing, warehousing and distribution are proving essential.  And examples abound of industrial companies pivoting in a positive way to provide much needed services and products in account of this pandemic.

At NAI The Dunham Group, we are pleased to present a mid-year update to our annual Industrial Market Survey. Indeed, the statistics reflect a dynamic market and confirm our anecdotal and transactional workload. In 2020 we’ve added Falmouth to our survey and are now tracking a nearly 20,000,000 SF Greater Portland market including Saco & Biddeford.

Today, our vacancy rate holds steady at 2.79% and that includes the only significantly large vacancy in all of Greater Portland, a 167,000 SF warehouse at 203 Read Street in Portland. That building is getting a lot of activity and, if leased, our overall rate will drop to a stifling 1.95%. And, practically speaking, because most industrial end-users are looking for smaller units, that sub-2% availability is what tenants and buyers are dealing with. Herein Sam LeGeyt reports on the “sweet spot” for industrial users and the dramatic lack of this type of inventory. We are hopeful these market conditions lead to long-awaited speculative development.

Sales demand for existing inventory remains at an all-time high. Bullish investors, both local and regional, are competing with end-users. This consistent and competitive demand has driven average sales prices towards $80/SF with peak pricing well over $100/SF. It seems the volatility of the stock market and the uncertain economic outlook is driving investors to bricks & mortar. And, as mentioned, no sector is better positioned to weather the Covid storm and prosper post-pandemic than industrial.

Nationally, the industrial sector remains as healthy as ever. Unlike in Maine, speculative construction has kept up with demand and vacancy rates remain historically low throughout most of the country. Tertiary markets, in particular, are seeing great new development as businesses are attracted by cheaper land, tax incentives and interstate connectivity to find Mid-Year Review employees. In fact, many manufacturing businesses are choosing labor pools over geography as the driving reason for plant location.

Of course, the great caveat to all of this is Covid and the still lingering long term ramifications. I’ve said to many clients, we’re very much IN this. This pandemic is happening right now. It’s never been harder to make projections or predictions because there are so many variables and possible trickle-down effects from this pandemic we haven’t even considered.

In summary, the industrial market is proving Covid-resistant and the environment has never been more competitive. We see few signs of change in the near-term but this pandemic is truly unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It would be irresponsible to say the industrial market is immune to the effects of this crisis. But so far it sure is putting up a good fight.

Posted in Member Articles | Leave a comment

Board Members Retire from Real Estate Organization after Many Years of Service

PORTLAND, Maine (July 29, 2020) The Maine Real Estate & Development Association announces retirements from its Board of Directors.

James M. Whelan, Vice President, Business Loan Officer at Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution has retired from the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s (MEREDA’s) Board of Directors after 20 years of service.

MEREDA recognized Jamie in 2015 with its Robert B. Patterson, Jr. Founders’ Award, a career recognition award to acknowledge members of MEREDA who have distinguished themselves by making significant contributions to the real estate industry and/or to MEREDA over many years. Jamie was instrumental in MEREDA beginning to take on legislative issues which were an impediment to responsible real estate development. Jamie was a dedicated past president of MEREDA having served a 3-year term rather than the customary 2-year term and also participated on MEREDA’s executive, public policy, and conference committees.

James Palmer, a Partner at Verrill, one of New England’s leading midsize law firms, served as a contributing member of MEREDA’s Board of Directors for the past 16 years. During this time, Jim participated on MEREDA’s Public Policy Committee. At Verrill, Jim has practiced commercial real estate law for more than 30 years. Over that time, he has represented lenders in commercial lending, handled a variety of lease negotiations, and represented developers of office buildings, hotels, and other commercial projects.

Amy Booth, Facilities & Property Management Expert, served on MEREDA’s Board the last 6 years.   Amy was active on MEREDA’s Membership & Marketing Committee helping develop ways to create additional value for MEREDA’s membership and brainstorming ideas to further enhance the effectiveness of the organization.  She was also active on MEREDA’s “Strikes for Scholars” Bowl-a-Thon fundraising committee.

Also retiring after serving for 6 years is Eben Adams, Partner and Chair of Pierce Atwood’s Real Estate Practice Group. Eben’s practice includes all aspects of real estate law with a focus on commercial and residential development, acquisitions, sales and leasing. Eben participated on MEREDA’s Conference Committee.

“MEREDA has been fortunate to be able to work with so many talented individuals over the years. We are grateful for their dedication and service,” stated Shelly R. Clark, MEREDA Vice President of Operations, “Their contributions are very much appreciated.”

For further information, please contact MEREDA’s Vice President of Operations, Shelly R. Clark at info@mereda.org.

Posted in People | Leave a comment

The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on 62 Spring Street, Auburn

In a multi-part series exclusive to the Maine Real Estate Insider, we’ll provide an up-close look at the most notable commercial development projects of the past year that are helping to fuel Maine’s economy in terms of investment and job creation. MEREDA is proud to recognize responsible development based upon criteria including environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, difficulty of the development, uniqueness, social impact and job creation.

Our 2019 Top 7 recipients include:

62 Spring Street, Auburn, Anew Development / Auburn Housing
Founders Place Campus, Bangor, Bangor Savings Bank / CJ Developers
Cape Arundel Cottage Preserve, Arundel, Arundel-Kennebunkport Cottage Preserve, LLC
WEX Global Corporate Headquarters, Portland, Jonathan S. Cohen – 0 Hancock Street, LLC
Hannaford Center, Hampden, Good Shepherd Food Bank
Southgate, Scarborough, Avesta Housing
Station Square, Gorham, Great Falls Construction

MEREDA’s Board intended to honor the award winners at the 35th Anniversary Gala. Originally scheduled for the end of March 2020, the Gala was postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19. Though they may have their formal award delayed, these projects have only gained practical significance as they serve their communities–especially under additional strain and stress of these unprecedented times.  We look forward to formally recognizing these recipients at a future MEREDA event.

Please join us this week in celebrating 62 Spring Street in Auburn.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Anew Development | Auburn Housing Authority:  62 Spring Street is a mixed-use development in the heart of downtown Auburn, with 32 affordable units, 9 market rate units, and over 2500 square feet of street-front retail space. 62 Spring Street was developed by Anew Development in partnership with Auburn Housing Development Corporation, a community housing development corporation affiliated with Auburn Housing Authority.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project?  

Anew Development | Auburn Housing Authority:  Ethan Boxer-Macomber became aware of underutilized property available next to the historic Engine House and across from Hannaford Supermarket on Spring Street in Auburn. In 2014 he approached Rick Whiting of Auburn Housing with the concept of maximizing use of the site through the creation of a four- story, mixed -use property which would bring back some of the housing density previously lost to fires and demolitions for parking. AHDC purchased the property with a pre-development loan from the Genesis Community Loan Fund, an underutilized rambling funeral home was demolished, and Anew/AHDC applied for low income housing tax credits multiple times before being awarded credits in the 2017 competition. Instrumental in all of this was the active support of the City of Auburn, which provided 70% Tax Increment Financing & a forgivable $250,000 Fed-Home loan.

MEREDA:  That sounds like quite a process.  How long were you in the planning stages before construction started?

Anew Development | Auburn Housing Authority:  We struggled with cost containment issues, as the original design by Marilyn Leivian of PDT Architects (now CHA) involved expensive covered parking beneath the building structure that needed to be value-engineered out of the design in order to be cost-competitive. Additionally, environmental issues with the site, due to the presence of a former “gasoline alley” nearby required careful investigation and mitigation efforts, including a V-R-A-P with Maine D.E.P. The Auburn Planning Board initially approved the original design in August 2014 after a very positive public meeting was held in a neighborhood church. In 2016, Marilyn Leivian and her team pursued an aggressive schedule to re-design the project, which became the first development approved under the City of Auburn’s new form-based code at the August 2016 meeting of the Auburn Planning Board. In Maine Housing’s 2016 LIHTC competition, 62 Spring Street was finally awarded tax credits and began construction in December 2017.

MEREDA:  Tell us about the most challenging aspect of getting this project completed.

Anew Development | Auburn Housing Authority:  The project, already handicapped by a winter start, was hampered by the longest cold snap in decades, and took a while to get moving. However, Benchmark Construction proved up to the task and completed a high-quality building & durable site work in a very tight urban setting.

MEREDA:  Something unexpected you learned along the way was….

Anew Development | Auburn Housing Authority:  Even though the delay was frustrating, the response in terms of demand for the units was unprecedented, with over 200 applications received for 41 residential units and lease-up occurring in two months. The development continues to maintain a waiting list of over 200 applications to this day, due to the property’s central location and amenities.

MEREDA:  Now that it’s complete, what feature of the project do you think makes it the most notable? 

Anew Development | Auburn Housing Authority:  Although the neighborhood has no architectural unity, with a grocery store, a seventies modern bank, a historic fire station and library, and residential buildings, nonetheless 62 Spring Street “fits” the neighborhood in terms of scale, use and appearance, and is a welcome addition to the street.

Posted in Business, Member Articles, People | Leave a comment

Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA) Announces Appointments to its Board of Directors

PORTLAND, ME (July 21, 2020) – Rebecca West Greenfield, Partner at Pierce Atwood, and resident of Yarmouth, and Anthony Calcagni of Falmouth, Partner at Verrill, have been elected to the board of directors of the Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA), a statewide organization of commercial real estate owners, developers and related service providers.

Rebecca West Greenfield maintains a transactional commercial real estate practice involving acquisitions, dispositions, development, leasing, finance, and title and land use analysis. She has particular expertise in project finance for new and existing real estate developments.

Rebecca has represented regional real estate developers, educational institutions, lenders and other commercial entities in a wide array of development and lending transactions involving hotels and resort properties, office buildings, campus expansions, residential subdivisions, and other commercial properties. Her experience extends to certain specialized areas as well, including advising clients in the space of commercial mortgage backed securitized loans and the defeasance of such securitized loans, timberland transactions, and preparation of registration reports pursuant to the requirements of the Federal Interstate Land Sales Disclosure Act.

Anthony Calcagni joined Verrill Dana in 1994. Tony’s real estate practice has focused on acquisitions, development and leasing of commercial property, easements and title matters, zoning and land use, and community associations. Tony has represented the developers of several of the largest wind power projects in the State of Maine. He has served as Chair of Verrill’s Real Estate Department since 2010.

Since 2007, Tony has been recognized in Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business, and listed in The Best Lawyers in America under Real Estate Law. He was accepted as a Fellow of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers in 2015. Tony served as Chair of the Maine State Bar Association’s Real Estate and Title Section from 2016-2018, and served on the Town of Falmouth Planning Board from 2002-2009 (serving as Chair from 2007-2009).

MEREDA’s Vice President of Operations, Shelly R. Clark says, “Pierce Atwood and Verrill have all been longtime supporters of MEREDA, and Rebecca and Tony will be great additions to the Board of Directors. We look forward to their active participation on our various committees and we are excited to begin working more closely with each of them.”

For further information, please contact MEREDA’s Vice President of Operations, Shelly R. Clark at info@mereda.org or visit www.mereda.org.

Posted in People | Leave a comment

Depreciable Life of Qualified Improvement Property

By John Hadwen, CPA, Principal, Baker Newman Noyes

April 1, 2020

(A long overdue technical amendment)

Updated as of April 22, 2020

This article was updated on April 22 to incorporate the guidance of Rev. Proc. 2020-25. It provides another means (the use of filing a Form 3115 in addition to amending a return) by which a taxpayer can implement the shorter tax life given to qualified improvement property (QIP) by the CARES Act. It also gives taxpayers the ability to make a late election or revoke/withdraw an election to use the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) or not claim bonus depreciation on any asset class for the 2018, 2019 or 2020 tax years.

April 9 Update: As we explain in an April 9 article, Revenue Procedure 2020-23 now allows (until September 30, 2020) partnerships that are subject to the “BBA” rules to make corrections to previously-filed 2018 and 2019 tax returns, thereby implementing retroactive features of the CARES Act in a manner that impacts those tax years (and the partners in place at those times), rather than impacting the 2020 year (and its partners). The reduced tax life and bonus depreciation associated with the Qualified Improvement Property are excellent candidates for this temporary leeway.

The CARES act finally fixes a well-known qualified improvement property (QIP) “glitch” that was bungled in 2017’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). QIP is generally defined as any improvement made to the interior portion of a nonresidential building any time after the building was placed in service. QIP does not include any improvement for which the expenditure is attributable to the enlargement of the building, any elevator or escalator, or the internal structural framework of the building.

In 2017, TCJA legislation inadvertently caused this category of assets to be assigned a depreciable tax life of 39 years and become ineligible for bonus depreciation. In spite of congressional intent to correct this oversight for more than two years, nothing materialized until now. The CARES Act changes the depreciable life back to its pre-TCJA 15 year life and makes QIP eligible for 100% bonus depreciation. As a bonus to taxpayers, the technical correction is retroactive to January 1, 2018, so additional tax benefits can be realized by taxpayers for their 2018 and 2019 tax years.

Generally taxpayers may have to file an amended return to benefit from this change. However, Rev. Proc. 2020-25 gives taxpayers another option to change the depreciation of QIP placed in service by the taxpayer in a tax year ending in 2018, 2019 or 2020. Additionally the revenue procedure allows taxpayers to make a late election or to revoke or withdraw an election to use the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) or not claim bonus depreciation on any asset class for the 2018, 2019 or 2020 tax years.

BNN Observation: With the issuance of Rev. Proc. 2020-23, all partnerships, corporations (C or S), trusts, and individuals can file amended returns for 2018 and realize this benefit in the 2018 tax year. BBA Partnerships or partnerships subject to the partnership audit rules should file amended returns and issue amended Schedule K-1s prior to September 30, 2020 before the relief in Rev. Proc. 2020-23 expires.

Some taxpayers have made a farming business or real property trade or business election under Section 163(j)(7)(B) and (C), requiring the use of ADS and disallowing bonus depreciation for certain property. Rev. Proc. 2020-22 gives these businesses much needed relief and flexibility for making or revoking the election to be an electing real property trade or business or electing farm trade or business for the business interest limitations purposes.

Taxpayers should consult their tax advisors to review their facts and determine the best courses of action. For many taxpayers, filing Form 3115 may be the most efficient and fastest way to get the benefit(s) associated with QIP and to make or revoke related elections. However, situations may exist where filing an amended tax return may be a better option (e.g., if a taxpayer is already amending a tax return for other items or amending generates a larger NOL carryback claim.)

BNN Observation: It is important not to forget the state income tax implications of this provision, because many states do not conform to bonus depreciation or allow NOL carrybacks.

Original article published April 1, 2020, https://www.bnncpa.com/resources/depreciable-life-of-qualified-improvement-property/

 

Posted in Business, Member Articles | Leave a comment

The Outstanding Seven: MEREDA’s 2019 Notable Project Winners

PORTLAND, ME – July 13, 2020 –  Every spring, MEREDA recognizes the most noteworthy and significant Maine commercial development projects from the previous year, all of which embody the Association’s mission to support responsible development.

In keeping with tradition, MEREDA’s Board intended to honor the award winners at the 35th Anniversary Gala. Originally scheduled for the end of March 2020, the Gala was postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19. Though they may have their formal award delayed, these projects have only gained practical significance as they serve their communities–especially under additional strain and stress of these unprecedented times.

In 2019, these seven projects distinguished themselves in design, construction, land-use, and added benefit to their communities.

Hannaford Center, Good Shepherd Food Bank (Hampden) which renovated the former Bangor Daily News printing press building, allowing the Food Bank to purchase and distribute more food, more frequently and efficiently to northern, central, and Downeast Maine.

Cape Arundel Cottage Preserve, Arundel-Kennebunkport Cottage Preserve LLC (Arundel) for creating an overwhelming sense of place and cohesive design on a 300-acre project, using sustainable practices and natural landscapes.

62 Spring Street, Auburn Housing & Anew Development (Auburn), for its diversity and vibrancy, epitomizing the “Smart Growth” concept which successfully connects the dots between affordable housing, city walkability, economic energy, and downtown growth.

Founders Place Campus, Bangor Savings Bank and CJ Developers (Bangor), for the creative and extensive implementation of environmental systems and capacity to spur talented business growth to Bangor.

Southgate Avesta Housing (Scarborough), for the preservation and creative renovation of a 215 year-old farmhouse as a vibrant community of 38 safe, quality, and affordable homes through the incredible support of partners and donors.

Station Square, Great Falls Construction (Gorham), for the thoughtful and intentional preservation of Gorham’s historic identity as a railroad village, with equal emphasis on the community invitation to work, live, and play while employing Mainers.

WEX Global Corporate Headquarters, Jonathan S. Cohen & 0 Hancock Street LLC (Portland), for a statement of responsible development, innovation, and modernity, using lean construction principles kept work flowing and the project on track, and continuously emphasizing sustainability and energy efficiency.

MEREDA thanks its Membership for their continued commitment to responsible development in Maine, and looks forward to formally and tangibly recognizing these Notable Projects when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, each project will be recognized with its own article in the Maine Real Estate Insider e-newsletter published by Mainebiz, running Summer of 2020.

 

For more information on these impressive projects, please click here.

Posted in Business, People | Leave a comment

Maine Real Estate & Development Association Names New President and Announces 2020-2022 Officers

Portland resident, Josh Fifield, a Senior Account Executive in the Business Insurance Department of Clark Insurance is the new president of the Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA), a statewide organization of commercial real estate owners, developers and related service providers. Founded in 1985, MEREDA promotes responsible development and ownership of real estate in Maine through legislative advocacy, educational programs and professional networking opportunities.

As a Senior Account Executive at Clark Insurance, a 100% Employee Owned insurance agency headquartered in Portland, Maine, Josh has over 16-years of experience as an advocate and trusted insurance advisor.   He developed an exceptional skill set starting his insurance career as an Underwriter for Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Company.

As an employee owner, he is responsible for the continued and successful growth of Clark Insurance by providing its customers with comprehensive business insurance solutions and related safety and risk management services. His focus is on the unique needs of New England’s real estate and development focused businesses, providing agency-wide services such as 24-hour claims assistance, competitive plans, exceptional customer service, and safety & risk consulting services.

An active member of his community, Josh has coached a variety of youth sports and has been the Safety Director for the Portland Little League.

In MEREDA, Josh started volunteering as a committee member on the Marketing & Membership Committee in early 2014.   In 2017, Josh was recognized as one of two Volunteers of the Year. He has remained actively engaged as the co-chair of MEREDA’s Marketing & Membership committee and more recently as MEREDA’s Vice President of the Board of Directors.

Josh succeeds Gary D. Vogel, attorney at Drummond Woodsum who has led MEREDA for the past two years. “Gary’s steady leadership during these unprecedented times has shown how well MEREDA was able to quickly pivot in order to continue our statewide advocacy efforts and create informative and responsive virtual events including the MEREDA INDEX and COVID-19’s immediate impact to Maine’s development industry”, said Fifield. “I welcome the opportunity to help guide MEREDA through these challenging times, all the while continuing to maintain its unparalleled pursuit of advocating on behalf of its members.”

MEREDA also announced its 2020 / 2022 slate of officers which include President Josh Fifield of Clark Insurance, Vice Presidents Shannon Richards of Hay Runner and Craig Young of The Boulos Company, Treasurer Mark Stasium of Camden National Bank, and Secretary Shelly R. Clark, who also serves full time as MEREDA’s Vice President of Operations.

Posted in Business, People | Leave a comment

Maine Issues COVID-19 Guidance for Town Meetings

Throughout the pandemic, MEREDA members have navigated participating in various town public proceedings conducted virtually. Now, with the opening of municipal buildings and the need to accommodate municipal matters requiring a public vote by town residents, Governor Mills and the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) have released guidelines for holding town and public meetings during COVID-19, consistent with the Governor’s Executive Order 56 (Order 56).

For developers with projects that require ordinance amendments or contract zone approvals at town meeting, these provisions will affect how the town conducts the debate and vote on those matters.

The DECD guidance offers three options to allow towns to hold public meetings safely and effectively. The key requirements of each option are:

  1. Indoor or outdoor town meetings of 50 or fewer individuals. Under this option, town officials must limit the number of individuals that gather in a shared space. The town must have a backup plan to ensure that voters are not turned away in the event that the total number of participants exceeds 50, including voters, clerks, and town officials. Microphones should not be passed from person to person, and ballots should be collected by a ballot clerk with a collection receptacle rather than passed from hand to hand.
  1. Drive-in town meetings. If the number of attendees is anticipated to exceed 50 individuals, the DECD recommends organizing a drive-in meeting where individuals can remain inside their vehicles in an outdoor space where vehicles can be spaced a minimum of six feet apart. The outdoor space should have a clear entrance where voters check in upon arrival for voting, and voting should occur by distributing colored cards of sufficient size to allow “show of hands” voting through vehicle windows. Towns should ensure that there are appropriate social distancing procedures in place if an individual needs to exit their vehicle to use shared public facilities, such as restrooms, or to offer public comment.
  1. Indoor town meetings using multiple rooms within one facility. If the number of attendees exceeds 50 individuals, towns may choose to hold a meeting in different rooms within one facility, such as a school. Organizers should utilize technology to maintain the continuous ability for all voters in attendance to hear all discussions and motions, and to allow real-time voting in each meeting room. A deputy moderator should be present in each meeting room to facilitate voting. Gathering in common areas prior to or after the meeting should be discouraged.

The DECD also highlights a number of common practices that municipalities should follow across all three options described above, including:

  • All individuals should maintain six feet of distance at all times.
  • All individuals should wear face coverings at all times, but at a minimum during any interaction with an individual outside of their household group, such as during check-in. While the use of face coverings is strongly encouraged, officials may not turn away participants for failing to comply with the face-covering recommendation.
  • Individuals checking in voters and collecting and distributing ballots should wear a face shield in addition to a face covering.
  • Towns must provide a separate location for non-voters or members of the public to view and listen to the proceedings.
  • Towns should consider putting restrictions in place so that individuals who are at a higher risk of illness-e.g., those over age 65 or those with underlying medical conditions-are not responsible for checking in voters and/or collecting ballots. Towns should also train election workers on hand hygiene, social distancing guidelines, proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and cleaning protocols.
  • If a town hosts a meeting indoors, then it must provide a separate space for isolating an individual who becomes ill during the meeting. Towns should also take steps to improve indoor air ventilation and prop open doors where possible to decrease the spread of germs.
  • In general, meeting organizers should take steps to notify the public of all policies and procedures through signage and other means of communication, modify traffic flows and eliminate lines, and provide adequate supplies for personal hygiene, including hand sanitizer and disinfecting soap.

If a municipality cannot comply with the gathering protocols outlined in the DECD guidance, the governor’s executive order also authorizes municipal officials to hold a vote on a matter at the ballot box instead of at an in-person town meeting.

Posted in Business | Leave a comment

MEREDA Virtual Event – Developing Now: Updates and Insight from Developers and Professionals in a COVID 19 Environment

Virtual Event
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
8:30 – 9:30 AM

Due to the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic, MEREDA is presenting a series of free forums on relevant topics to keep members informed.  While this event is free of charge, registration is required. 

To register, visit www.mereda.org

About the Event:

Description: Developing Now – Updates and Insight from Developers and Professionals in a COVID 19 Environment

Moderated by Gary D. Vogel, MEREDA President, Attorney at Drummond Woodsum

Our panelists include:

Nathan Szanton, President, The Szanton Company

Greg A. Mitchell, Director, Economic Development Department, City of Portland

Joe Dasco, Principal, Reger Dasco Properies

Patrick Coughlin, Principal & Director of Engineering, St.Germain

This MEREDA Morning Menu Breakfast Event is Sponsored by:  Norway Savings Bank

Posted in Business, Events | Leave a comment