by Eleanor Kinney
Plum Creek has gone back to the drawing board. It needed to.
Its plan to build two resorts and 975 house lots scattered across the Moosehead Lake Region has created controversy and concern throughout our state.
Plum Creek, a real estate investment trust and the largest private property owner in the United States, owns over 900,000 acres in Maine. Its proposed development plan is the biggest in Maine history and is likely to set precedents for decades to come.
It is critical that Plum Creek, and we, get it right.
Maine is a different place today than it was when Plum Creek announced its April 2006 revised plan. Five months after that plan was submitted, another major document arrived on our doorstep, igniting a state-wide conversation.
“Charting Maine’s Future,” a comprehensive study commissioned by GrowSmart Maine and conducted by the Brookings Institution, has helped us understand that Maine’s “quality places” are what differentiate us from the rest of the country. Our forests and farms, shorelines and small towns are Maine’s unique strength in a 21st century economy where people can choose to live and work almost anywhere.
We need to protect and invest in these places if we are to build the type of sustainable prosperity that all Maine people hope for. Alan Caron, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine, says that the Brookings Report can be boiled down to one fundamental question: “How do we grow without wrecking the place?”
We need to make thoughtful decisions about where and how development should occur. Our track record so far isn’t great.
The Brookings Report documents how southern Maine communities have spread out, converting rural fields and woodlots to suburban sprawl. The pace of change has been rapid: between 1980 and 2000, an area the size of Rhode Island was converted from rural lands to suburban development. The cost of services, and the taxes to support them, keeps going up as we suburbanize across the landscape.
So while we think of ourselves as a rural state, the distinctive Maine character that makes our state special is vanishing rapidly.
The worst of it is that we, as a people, did not decide to let Maine go. It simply happened as the result of thousands of decisions that may have served individuals, businesses, or towns, even as they diminished the value of our state.
We are putting our communities and our land at risk. Yet these are the very “quality places” that should be nurtured as the foundation for an economic prosperity and quality of life that will benefit all of us.
Now, in our post-Brookings Report world, Plum Creek’s vision for Moosehead seems even more reckless and indifferent to the best interests of our state.
When contemplating quality places, the Moosehead Lake Region stands out as one of Maine’s most precious treasures. There is no other place like it in the Eastern United States.
That is why the prospect of this much development, spread out in 58 different subdivisions, has troubled so many people. Those who have criticized Plum Creek’s plans are not against growth; they just don’t want development to “wreck the place.”
So Plum Creek should take its time and come back with a new plan that is solidly aimed at protecting the extraordinary quality of place that is Moosehead Lake. Such a plan would introduce development in fewer locations and closer to existing towns.
Specifically, it would move its proposed developments closer to Greenville and Rockwood. Places like Lily Bay Peninsula, Prong, Indian, and Upper Wilson Pond, Western Brassua Lake, and the North West Shore of Moosehead Lake would be left unspoiled.
The new plan shouldn’t just be geared toward expensive second homes that would be beyond the financial reach of most Mainers. Instead, it should include house lots within the 8,000 acres that Plum Creek owns in the town of Greenville.
These could be neighborhood-like subdivisions that foster a sense of community where families want to live year round.
If Plum Creek did that, it would win applause. Such a plan would protect Moosehead Lake as one of our premier quality places, and Plum Creek might not have to go back to the drawing board on this project ever again.