by Kate Cough
Ellsworth American news story
ELLSWORTH — Hancock County Commissioners heard passionate testimony from area residents on Monday evening, largely arguing against rule changes being proposed by the state Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) that would change where subdivisions and commercial developments could be located in Maine’s unorganized territories.
“This is a major and monumental change, and not for the better,” said Jennifer Riefler of Verona Island.
For decades, development in unorganized townships has been limited to within one road mile of existing similar development. But the proposal currently under review by the LUPC, which manages over 10 million acres of Maine’s forests, would change this to allow development of subdivisions and commercial developments up to 10 miles from the boundary of “rural hubs” that are also within two miles of a public road.
Under the new rules some subdivisions also could be located up to five miles from a public road if emergency services are available.
In a post on the group’s website, LUPC members call the current regulations “too blunt a tool” and say that “Flexibility is needed to account for site conditions like the presence of wetlands or steep slopes.”
The new rules could affect 2.4 million acres of land, although in a letter on the website LUPC members write that much of the area “would not be developed due to site conditions, conservation easements, or landowner intent.”
On Monday, residents lamented the plan as incomplete and rushed, and urged Hancock County Commissioners to adopt a petition asking the LUPC to retain the one-mile adjacency rule and hold an additional public hearing on the issue.
“Maine’s citizens, legislators and county commissioners need more time to understand the proposed plan and its consequences,” said Jane Crosen Washburn of Penobscot.
The LUPC has been working on the proposal since 2016, and has held stakeholder meetings, focus groups and conducted a survey, to which 2,005 residents responded. A public hearing on the proposal was scheduled to be held in Brewer on Wednesday.
But many residents called for additional time to understand the complicated nature of the proposal, the most recent version of which was published in mid-May.
“I do not understand why this proposal is being rushed through the system with no real notification or education for citizens,” said Surry resident Patsy Shankle, a sentiment that was echoed by others. Audience members at the Monday night meeting also advocated for additional public hearing on the rules before the planned adoption of the rules in the fall, saying the public was largely unaware of the changes and lamenting a lack of media coverage of the issue.
“This should be on the front page of every newspaper and the lead story of every TV news,” said one audience member.
Orland resident Karen Cote called the proposal “far too broad” and unfinished.
“The proposal and rules are not only complex but appear to be not fully written,” said Cote, adding that the changes would “encourage inappropriate uses.”
According to a post on the LUPC website, the rules would not alter environmental rules or conservation easements that are now in place. But in a description of the proposed changes, members acknowledge that “some problems could arise,” including “Strip development, habitat impacts, loss of control over the pace of development in some places, and residential subdivisions in some areas that are distant from retail hubs.”
LUPC members added that the risk of issues would be mitigated “through specific mechanisms in the application of the adjacency principle or in the accompanying subdivision rules.”
But residents expressed concerns about resource extraction and habitat fragmentation.
“They aren’t making any more wilderness,” said Surry resident Melanie Zador, adding that growing up in New Jersey she had seen “firsthand the demise of the Garden State.”
“I’m really concerned by the time people even realize that we are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs it will be too late,” said Blue Hill resident Bonnie Preston.
“We’ve given the corporations everything they’ve wanted and we need to stop that.”
Hancock County Commissioners Percy “Joe” Brown and Antonio Blasi declined to adopt the resolution at the meeting, arguing that the board’s third member, William Clark, who was absent, should have a chance to review the revised version. The updated petition includes a request for the LUPC to hold an additional public hearing in addition to asking the commission to retain the one-mile adjacency rule.
“The one-mile adjacency rule has worked well for quite awhile,” said Penobscot resident Richard Washburn.
“In the Maine vernacular, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”