Damariscotta Heart & Soul Community Planning

Launch Project Slideshow

Damariscotta Heart & Soul Community Planning Damariscotta, Maine

Controversy over a proposed Wal-Mart kicked off an unusual planning project in Damariscotta, Maine: one that began with giant pumpkins. At the 2008 Pumpkin Fest and Regatta, the Town launched a multi-year project aimed at creating a vision for the community and a plan to channel new growth. Since then, over 1,000 people have gotten involved in re-imagining the town’s waterfront, protecting the historic downtown, and adapting to new growth without losing local character and traditions.

Damariscotta has used a variety of innovative tactics, including storytelling, values mapping and collaborative design charrettes. By actively fostering community involvement in the planning process, Damariscotta is changing the way the Town does business.

Read the Damariscotta Case Study!


Damariscotta is a regional hub. Located on busy US Route 1, which serves as both a coastal transportation artery and the town’s main drag, Damariscotta is a service and shopping center for Midcoast Maine. As a result, the town has grown away from its traditional resource-based economy towards a service-oriented one.

Many residents are concerned about sprawl while others worry about the town becoming an increasingly tourist-driven place. These issues were brought to a head in a controversial Wal-Mart development proposal in 2005, which resulted in a divisive vote limiting retail stores to no more than 35,000 square feet. The experience revealed how ill equipped the Town was to manage new growth. It also underscored the need to engage more people in determining the future of the town.

Since the big box fight, the Town has been taking steps to improve its planning and decision-making approach. Its initial move was to form the Damariscotta Planning Advisory Committee (DPAC) to lead this community-driven visioning process.


In the months following the project launch at the Pumpkin Fest and Regatta, Damariscotta residents collaborated to collect community stories through one-on-one interviews, storytelling events and community forums. Six shared community values emerged from these events:

  • Working locally and growing locally owned businesses
  • Living locally, being able to afford to live and shop in town
  • Community involvement where people participate in schools, organizations, churches and community events and festivals
  • Having culture and nature in close proximity, where people might see a seal or a moose but also be in walking distance to restaurants, art galleries, local theater and a library
  • Accessible community, with easy access to goods and services as well as local government and information
  • A strong sense of community, where people trust one another and feel safe.

These values served as guiding principles for a four-day planning and design charrette that brought hundreds of community members together to discuss future plans for Downtown, Route 1B and Piper Common (a private landholding slated for development). The charrette resulted in specific recommendations for these three potential growth areas as well as general recommendations for improving the town.

With these results in hand, DPAC hosted neighborhood meetings and information workshops to share the charrette’s outcomes and solicit additional input from local residents and business owners. The Town also began pursuing the development of a Form Based Code for the three growth areas, which was a key recommendation from the charrette. DPAC has hosted dozens of community workshops to introduce people to Form Based Code and provided a real opportunity for citizens to shape the code themselves based on the local knowledge and values of the town. Locals have been rolling up their sleeves to figure out just how they can create a code that fits Damariscotta best.


Town of DamariscottaThe Town of Damariscotta in Lincoln County, Maine operates under a Selectboard/Town Meeting/Town Manager form of government. The Town has a Planning and Development Department, a Planning and Development Board, and in 2007 established the Damariscotta Planning and Advisory Committee (DPAC). DPAC’s mission is “to lead a community-driven process to make the Damariscotta region a better place to live, work, play, do business and visit for all people by advancing policies and practices that foster sustainable land use and prosperity.”

Friends of Midcoast MaineFriends of Midcoast Maine (FMM) is a smart growth organization located in Camden, Maine. It works to preserve and enhance natural resources, social and economic vitality, cultural resources and quality of life in the midcoast region. FMM helps communities identify and save what is valued, while promoting change in a way that serves the communities now and is sustainable for generations to come.