By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
The Land Use Planning Commission is considering a proposal that could allow subdivision or commercial development in nearly 2.5 million acres in the Unorganized Territory in Maine.
Part of that area already allows such development within one mile of existing, similarly developed areas. Development of single residential lots is allowed in most locations throughout the Unorganized Territory, which consists of 10.4 million acres in Maine.
The commission is considering relaxing restrictions on the development of subdivisions and commercial projects so they can be located further away from existing communities or public roads. The change would allow such development to occur up to 10 miles away from communities designated as “retail hubs” by the commission, as long as they also are within two miles of a public road.
“We find this to be a really crude instrument,” Everett Worcester, chairman of the commission, said Tuesday about the current one-mile rule. “We struggle with this on an ongoing basis when people come in with proposals.”
In a statement posted on its website, the commission says its “service area is a big place, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always mean new development happens in the most suitable locations.”
Of the 2.46 million acres where subdivision and commercial development would be allowed, more than 1.7 million acres is less than two miles from a public road and less than 10 miles away from any one of more than 40 municipalities and plantations that the commission has designated as “retail hubs.” Land that meets these requirements, and any land that is less than two miles from a public road which itself is in a town or a plantation, would be considered “primary” locations for subdivision or commercial development.
An additional 712,000 acres of land would be open to development in areas that are less than five miles away from a public road and which abut a municipality or plantation that serves as a retail hub. Parcels that fit this category would be considered “secondary” locations for potential development.
Natural Resources Council of Maine is opposed to the relaxed development standards. In an email sent out last week to supporters, the conservation group said the one-mile rule has helped boost investment in existing service centers and protect pristine backcountry areas from development.
“This policy has protected wildlife habitat in undeveloped parts of Maine’s North Woods for more than four decades, and it should not be discarded,” Carly Peruccio, the group’s forests and wildlife outreach coordinator, wrote in the email.
Nicholas Livesay, executive director of the planning commission, said Tuesday that other development restrictions such as wetland protections would remain in place in some areas that otherwise would qualify for the more relaxed development standards. He said the commission could adopt the changes by the end of the year, after holding a formal public hearing sometime this summer.
The current siting standards are referred to as the commission’s “adjacency principle,” which was adopted years ago to concentrate development in the Unorganized Territory in pre-existing clusters and to keep large undeveloped tracts of wilderness intact.
The policy “encourages lower tax burdens, keeps land available for forestry, agriculture and recreation, and promotes the health of existing communities,” the commission wrote on its website.
Worcester said the commission has been reviewing the principle for the past two years, but that it may end up keeping it as is, without any changes. He said if the commission relaxes the development rule, he does not think it would result in “rampant development” in the Unorganized Territory.
“It’s more conceptual than real” at this point, Worcester said.
A public information meeting on the proposed change is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, April 5, at the Baxter State Park office in Millinocket. In addition, the commission is expected to accept public comment on the proposal when it meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday, April 11 at Spectacular Event Center on Griffin Road in Bangor.