MAINE VOICES: Wendy Weiger
As a resident of the Moosehead Lake region, I know the development proposal that Plum Creek Real Estate Investment Trust is submitting to the Land Use Regulation Commission is likely only one of many that will affect our region over the next few years. Before these proposals are evaluated, it is important for Maine citizens to think carefully about the appropriate balance between our rights and the rights of private-property owners who wish to develop land.
All Maine citizens are in a very real sense property owners, whether or not we hold the deed to any particular piece of land. We own the state’s public lands, its waters and its wildlife. When a company like Plum Creek seeks to develop its land, we should bear in mind that we, the citizens of Maine, own the lakes and rivers whose shores will be developed.
We own the fish that swim in those lakes and rivers. We own the moose and deer that roam through the proposed house lots and the birds that nest in the trees that will be felled to make way for buildings. Yes, private-property owners have certain rights. But these rights must be weighed against the public property rights of Maine citizens.
LURC’s criteria for evaluating development plans like the one proposed by Plum Creek clearly recognize the responsibility of private landowners to respect the rights of Maine citizens. In order for such a development plan to be approved, it must strike “a reasonable and publicly beneficial balance between appropriate development and long-term conservation.” The plan must benefit not only the private-property owner, but also Maine citizens, who are the state’s public-property owners, as well.
When Plum Creek bought the land it now seeks to develop, the land was zoned for timber harvesting and was accordingly purchased at a low price, roughly $200 per acre. Plum Creek was aware of these zoning restrictions when it bought the land. As a private-property owner, Plum Creek has the right to harvest timber from this land, but it does not have any inherent right to develop the land. Plum Creek does have the right to ask LURC for a zoning change that would allow development, and that is what Plum Creek is now doing.
Land zoned for development is worth many times more than land zoned for timber harvesting. A back lot (without shore frontage) from Plum Creek’s earlier development at First Roach Pond is on the market for nearly $24,000 per acre – more than 100 times what Plum Creek paid when it bought the land in 1998.
Approval of Plum Creek’s rezoning request by LURC would amount to a huge, instantaneous financial windfall for Plum Creek.
In return, the state would require compensation by Plum Creek in the form of conservation that would serve as a balance to the development. Such conservation should not be viewed as a charitable donation on the part of Plum Creek. It should be viewed as a necessary payment to the state of Maine, and Maine citizens should consider carefully whether or not the conservation being offered by Plum Creek amounts to adequate compensation given the scope of the development being proposed and the financial gains Plum Creek will receive.
On April 27, Plum Creek submitted its revised proposal to LURC. I encourage all Maine citizens to look carefully at the proposal and to voice your opinions to LURC, keeping in mind your rights as the state’s pub- lic-property owners.
Citizens may communicate with LURC individually or through participation in organizations that represent their views. I volunteer for an organization, the Moosehead Region Futures Committee (www.mooseheadfutures.org
We must not forget that decisions made now will determine the Moosehead region’s future for all time to come. As the state’s public-property owners, we have a tremendous responsibility to future generations. Let us exercise our rights wisely so we leave a legacy of which we can be proud.
– Special to the Telegram
Wendy Weiger of Greenville Junction owns land on First Roach Pond, is a Registered Maine Guide and serves on the Steering Committee of the Moosehead Region Futures Committee.