by Kate Cough
Ellsworth American news story
ELLSWORTH — The Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) offered a revised draft of its “adjacency principle” rules in late November in response to public outcry over proposed changes that were introduced this summer.
The LUPC, which manages land in Maine’s unorganized territories, has long used the adjacency principle as an initial screen to decide where to locate development projects, such as residential subdivisions and commercial buildings. The point of the policy is to cluster development so that undeveloped areas can stay that way.
“Many people have commented on the first draft of the proposed rule revisions and have made good suggestions about how to improve application of the adjacency principle,” LUPC staff wrote in a memo to commissioners dated Nov. 9.
The second draft of the proposal calls for commercial and residential developments located on LUPC land to be within seven miles of a rural hub and one mile from a road. As the policy stands commercial and residential developers seeking approval for projects on land managed by the LUPC must first satisfy what is known as the one-mile rule, which states that any new development must be within one road mile of existing compatible development.
A first draft of the new proposal called for the one-mile rule to be changed to 10 miles from a rural hub and two miles from a public road. Many residents and conservation groups voiced opposition to the first draft at a meeting in Brewer on June 20.
“Seven miles from a rural hub and one mile from a road gives the best overall balance,” wrote staff in the Nov. 9 memo introducing the second draft.
The LUPC manages Fletchers Landing Township and areas around Tunk Lake as well as many unorganized territories in the state.
Along with revisions to the one-mile rule, the new proposal includes a “system for zoning and permitting businesses that need to be close to natural or recreational resources,” such as agrotourism, mobile lumber processing, food trucks and businesses that rent outdoor gear.
“Many of these activities are difficult or impossible to permit under the current system,” wrote staff in the memo.
The second draft of the rules also provides for periodic review of the revisions and has clarified language to ensure remote walking trails would be spared from substantial development.
The LUPC has been considering changes to its adjacency principle for several years, arguing that the one-mile rule is “blunt,” inflexible and has encouraged “leapfrogging,” resulting in new homes and businesses sprinkled across the landscape “like freckles.”
In June, many residents also raised concerns about increased development on remote lakes and ponds. Under the new proposal, residential subdivisions would be allowed (as they are now) “on some lakes that are already developed with camps or homes, and near motorized or multi-use trailheads,” but would not be allowed on undeveloped lakes.
The new proposal would potentially allow for rezoning of 73 lakes, out of at least 1,500, as long as those lakes are not already in conservation, according to an Oct. 10 memo to commissioners.
The adjacency test would not be the only one developers would be required to meet, note staff: “It is a first screen to indicate, at a broad scale, where rezoning for development would be appropriate to consider in more detail.”
The second draft has not assuaged all concerns.
“We raised a number of major concerns with the earlier version of the rules and at least some of those concerns remain,” said Cathy Johnson, an attorney representing the Natural Resources Council of Maine, in an email: “The proposal would allow residential development on at least 1.3 million acres and 20 percent of the lakes in the unorganized townships. It would also allow commercial development on over 800,000 acres, threatening the vitality of neighboring communities.”
“They’ve proposed a one-size fits all cookie cutter thing,” said Johnson in a separate interview. “There are a number of places that it just really doesn’t make any sense.”
Johnson said she believes the changes will encourage commercial development where there currently isn’t any, while directing it away from struggling towns. “They have commercial and industrial parks that are underutilized, they have unused housing stock.”
Public comment has been largely negative in response to the proposals, which worries Johnson. “It’s somewhat of a mystery who’s pushing this.”
But Kaitlyn Bernard, spokesperson for the Appalachian Mountain Club, said in an email that the organization felt the LUPC had been responsive. “We are encouraged that they are making substantial revisions in response to public and stakeholder comments,” said Bernard.
A public meeting on the changes is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2019, at Jeff’s Catering, 15 Littlefield Way in Brewer.
*Note: The public meeting has been rescheduled for Thursday, January 10 at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer, at 12:00 p.m. due to snowstorm forecast for January 8.