A plan to replace the agency with county planning boards may not get the job done.
A legislative committee took a step in the right direction this week by saying it needed more time to implement a plan to abolish the Land Use Regulation Commission and shift all its authority to county governments. The committee ought to go a little further, however, and take the time to ask if abolishing LURC is really a good idea at all.
Getting rid of LURC was a campaign pledge of Gov. LePage, and it is a priority issue for Senate President Kevin Ray, a Washington County Republican who testified in favor of the bill.
According to the critics, the land use body, which acts as a planning board for the state’s unorganized territories, is slow to act and impedes economic development.
But that could be an argument for reforming the agency instead of abolishing it. And it may be that transferring power to the counties would add bureaucracy and layers of government that would be a bigger impediment to development than what exists now.
Under a bill proposed this session, all eight counties that contain land in the unorganized territories would have to create planning boards to review proposals (no counties currently have such capabilities.)
A development that straddles county lines, like Plum Creek’s massive rezoning in the Moosehead Lake region, would have to work with multiple county boards. A statewide appeals board would have to be created to handle disputes.
It may be that dividing up the responsibility for land use planning is the best way to get the job done. But it’s also possible that the single state board that we have now would be better equipped to handle a large and complex project than a hodgepodge of individual boards. A better result would be achieved with a streamlined regulatory process and a comprehensive plan that gives reliable guidance to developers.
Fortunately, the legislative process is the right forum for sorting out these kinds of questions.
Rather than passing a bill that would create a commission charged with coming up with a plan to replace LURC with county planning boards, the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee should take as much time as it needs after the Legislature adjourns to sort through the problem and solicit input from any expert in industry or government committee members would want to consult.
Then the committee could come back next year with some answers, something that has been lacking from this debate.
Legislative leaders should simply agree to hold this bill over until next year and let the committee do the work that needs to be done.