by A.J. Higgins
MPBN news story
Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission is targeted for changes, and legislative leaders today were at work drafting a bill to reflect a new structure. Under the proposal, counties would get more say over land use decisions, and land use policies would focus more on conservation rather than preservation.
Conservation Commissioner Bill Beardsley arrived at a meeting of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commission fully understanding that there is still plenty of apprehension among lawmakers about the revamping of the Land Use Regulation Commission. That commission reviews development proposals in Maine’s vast unorganized territories, sometimes known as the “UT” for short.
“There are strong polarized views concerning land use planning in the UT,” Beardsley said. “The reform commission has seen its task as reconciling these different and divergent views.”
The reform commission was created after lawmakers were unable to agree on how to proceed with the reorganization of LURC, which critics say takes overly-restrictive positions on all development projects — whether they’re submitted by business interests or private homeowners.
Proponents contend that LURC is needed to guarantee that Maine’s natural beauty will not be diminished by development.
Sarah Medina, of Dixmont, is the commission’s vice-chair. She says the panel wanted to set a different tone with its recommendations. As a result, her commission has replaced LURC references to “preservation” with the word “conservation.”
“Because a lot of times what’s happened over the last 40 years is, if you look at the purpose and scope and it says ‘preserve,’s that doesn’t give you any option to figure out what you might be able to do ecomomically without detracting from the environment–it just says ‘preserve,’s period, so you can’t do a lot of things,” Medina said.
Under the reform recommendations, LURC would actually grow—from seven to nine members—but its make-up would change. Right now, Maine’s governor appoints everyone who serves on LURC. Going forward, the governor would name just three members. The rest would be county commissioners from the six counties that have the most acreage within the Unorganized Territory.
Counties would also be able to oversee permitting decisions, now handled by LURC, for small projects, like renovations and new buildings. And counties would also have the option of withdrawing from the LURC process completely, if they create a planning board, come up with a comprehensive blueprint for development and meet other criteria.
Rep. Jeff McCabe, a Skowhegan Democrat, says because of the taxpayer-borne costs associated with those requirements, he has real problems with that provision.
“I don’t know how the citizens of the UT–let’s, for an example, say Somerset–would be able to pay another $100,000 or $200,000 dollars in property taxes,” McCabe says.
Although several Republicans and Democrats objected, committee chairs appeared intent Tuesday evening on framing the major points of the commission’s report for the purpose of drafting a bill. Lawmakers were still discussing the proposal at air time.