Conservationists say it will help control scattered construction of vacation homes.
by John Richardson, staff writer
MONDAY at the Senator Inn in Augusta
TUESDAY at the Ramada Inn in Bangor
WEDNESDAY, Sept. 30, at the Presque Isle Inn and Convention Center in Presque Isle
THE TIMES for each hearing are 1 to 4:30 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.
WRITTEN TESTIMONY can be submitted before Oct. 21 to: Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, 22 State House Station, Augusta, Maine, 04333-0022.
COMMENTS may also be submitted by e-mail to LURC@maine.gov
The planning and zoning agency for Maine’s North Woods is finalizing a new plan to control development pressure in the region.
Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission says new ownership of the forests and new types of development mean it’s time to update the 12-year-old comprehensive plan and find new ways to guide future growth.
“The landscape has changed substantially since 1997 – commercial wind power, commercial water extraction, the character of residential development,” said Catherine Carroll, the commission’s executive director.
Conservationists are backing the plan, saying the commission has had little control over the scattered construction of vacation homes throughout the commercial forest. While the proposed document lacks specific restrictions, it would give commissioners power to develop controls later through the rule-making process.
The proposed new blueprint for development faces opposition from a major group of timberland owners who argue that there is no need for new restrictions in what is still a sparsely populated area.
“We’re not seeing the same problem,” said James Cote, communications coordinator for the Forest Products Council of Maine.
The land use commission will hold three public hearings around the state next week on its proposed comprehensive plan. It also will accept written comments until Oct. 21. The southernmost hearing is scheduled Monday in Augusta.
Carroll and planning officials with the agency met Tuesday with members of the editorial board of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
Regulators said the location and pace of development is not a pressing problem, but it could be soon.
A new generation of landowners includes investors who, unlike paper companies, are focused less on the long-term timber value of their properties. And the character of development has changed, with modern four-season vacation homes replacing the traditional rustic camps that used to be built there.
Most of the new homes are built on individual lots, which means the land use commission has no control over where they go. A growing number of homes are being built in interior sections of the North Woods, although most of the development is still happening around the edges.
The proposed comprehensive plan calls for the commission to adopt new strategies – and potentially new rules – as a way to steer growth to suitable areas and keep it out of more sensitive ones.
“The commission is saying we need some new tools to deal with what’s coming,” Carroll said.
Commission members oversee land use in a 10.4 million-acre area – roughly half the state – where there are too few residents to support local governments and planning and zoning boards.
Coincidentally, the agency is scheduled to vote today whether to approve Plum Creek Timber Co.’s rezoning plan for the Moosehead Lake region. That plan, which includes two resorts and 975 house lots, was introduced four years ago, around the same time the commission was beginning work on its new comprehensive plan.
Although the Plum Creek project is an example of changing ownership goals and development pressure, that project will not be affected by any changes in the comprehensive plan.
Cathy Johnson, senior staff attorney and North Woods project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the commission needs more authority over the location of development.
“Right now, two-thirds of the development that’s happening is not being reviewed for location,” Johnson said. “I think (the proposal) is a balanced plan that takes some of the steps necessary so they can accomplish their legal mandate, which is to direct development to the proper locations and protect the natural, remote character of the area.”>/p>
Cote, whose organization represents the owners of 7 million acres, said the region’s character is not in any danger.
“(The proposal) is kind of this document of fear and it lacks any recognition of all the positive things going on,” he said.
Conservation easements and wildlife management agreements have protected large areas, and landowners continue to allow all kinds of recreational use of the forests, he said.
“In most cases, development is on the decline right now, and (the little that is taking place) is happening right where (the commission) has said development is appropriate – along the fringe,” he said. “We think things are going pretty well.”>/p>