LURC mulls changes after public feedback
AUGUSTA, Maine — Staff at the Land Use Regulation Commission are recommending numerous minor alterations but no major substantive changes to the latest draft of the comprehensive plan that guides policy decisions within the Unorganized Territory.
LURC staff made the changes in response to feedback received during the public comment period on the Comprehensive Land Use Plan earlier this fall. Roughly 50 people testified during public hearings and 450 submitted written comments.
Commissioners will consider the recommendations during their meeting on Dec. 2 in Bangor. The meeting will be held at 9:30 a.m. at the Ramada Inn on Odlin Road.
A final vote on the revised comprehensive plan is not expected until spring at the earliest after a legislative committee that oversees LURC reviews the plan.
Known informally as the CLUP, the comprehensive plan is the document that guides all aspects of LURC’s decision-making in the roughly 10.5 million-acre Unorganized Territory. The plan last was revised in 1997.
Most of the changes proposed by LURC staff are new language clarifying the commission’s intent or seeking to address concerns raised about the tone of the document.
For instance, critics have accused the staff of appearing to favor land conservation and preservation of natural resources over economic development and the commercial forestry that is the backbone of the region.
In response, LURC staff recommend adding a sentence at the beginning of the opening chapter stressing that “the commission must constantly weigh and balance the various development and natural resource goals and policies against one another when making decisions,” according to a Nov. 21 memo to the commissioners.
Staff also recommend rewriting a broad goal to read: “Support and promote the management of all the resources, based on the principles of sound planning and multiple use, to enhance the living and working conditions of the people of Maine, including property owners and residents of the unorganized and deorganized townships, to ensure the separation of incompatible uses, and to ensure the continued availability of outstanding quality water, air, forest, wildlife and other natural resources values of the jurisdiction.”
But the staff memo advocates for retaining such words as “primitive pursuits” and “remoteness,” which have been a source of contention between landowners and the environmental community. The staff memo notes that such words have been included in all previous comprehensive plans.
Throughout the latest revision process, there has been considerable debate about the threat that development poses to the jurisdiction.
According to LURC figures, the commission permitted 8,136 new dwellings within the jurisdiction between 1971 and 2005. While the draft CLUP describes that rate of development as moderate, it also raises concerns about LURC’s ability to control the location of that development.
LURC had no role in siting roughly two-thirds of those 8,100-plus dwellings because they were exempt from the subdivision review process under current state law.
The latest draft continues to espouse a goal of guiding future development into areas with the infrastructure and community services to support it. LURC staff members also have said they believe there should be additional discussion about whether the commission needs new tools to help discourage development from fragmenting working forests and undeveloped areas.
But because the CLUP is only a planning document, it cannot force any regulatory changes. Major changes would have to be brought about through rulemaking or through the Legislature.
“The plan considers measures that would help the Commission guide development in the jurisdiction to places where it is most appropriate,” staff wrote. “However, at this time we do not know what measures would ultimately prove most effective, possible and appropriate. Consequently, the plan discusses possibilities to explore, but does not offer one ready solution or course of action.”
Another criticism leveled by the Maine Forest Products Council and some landowners is that the draft plan spends too much time talking about development trends and not enough time discussing the large-scale land conservation that has taken place in the Unorganized Territory since 1997.
In their recommendation, staff acknowledge the importance of land conservation but argue that those trends do not preclude “the need to identify and discuss issues surrounding forest management, recreational opportunities, or the location of development.”
“To further emphasize this sentiment, we recommend adding language to the effect that the commission will consider information that is available about conserved lands when initiating planning and zoning activities,” the recommendation reads.
Catherine Carroll, LURC’s staff director, said the commission will discuss the recommendations at Wednesday’s meeting but will not be taking comments because the public comment period has ended.
If the commission does not make any major changes to the draft plan, staff likely will present the revised document to the commission in January. It then would be sent to the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee for review and comment.
Carroll said she hoped the commission could vote to adopt the revised CLUP in March, although that timetable is dependent on the extent of the changes.