Beth Della Valle
Distinguished Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry:
My name is Beth Della Valle. I am here as President of the Maine Association of Planners to testify in opposition to LDs 17, 1258, and 1534. The Maine Association of Planners, or MAP, is a statewide organization of approximately 100 members, including public, private, and nonprofit professional planners, citizen volunteers serving on local boards, and Mainers from other professions such as attorneys, landscape architects, professors, and developers. Though we work in diverse settings, we are all dedicated to enhancing the practice of planning in Maine.
MAP believes LURC serves a critical role for all Maine citizens. It preserves the Maine brand by fostering well planned, multiple use of natural resources while protecting ecological values that are critical to the State’s long term economic development interests. While there is room for improvement in the statute and rules that guide LURC’s efforts, the agency has been relatively consistent, effective, and sometimes innovative in balancing the needs of the working forest, outdoor recreation, natural resource protection, and growth in Maine’s unorganized territories. For these and other reasons MAP believes the critical role of LURC should be sustained.
Sound land use planning supports a healthy economy. The republican legislature that established LURC 40 years ago recognized the importance of planning to Maine’s economy as did the Brookings Institute in its 2006 report, Charting Maine’s Future. The forests, fields, lakes, and wildlife of the North Woods draw natural resource entrepreneurs and visitors from all over the world. The area’s natural resources are inextricably linked to the economy of all of Maine and must be protected through long range planning which recognizes that a stable economy in rural Maine must include more than construction and property maintenance jobs. The goal is to create jobs that provide secure and livable wages by adding value to the natural resources we have.
MAP expects that the sponsors of these bills presume that putting land use authority at the county level will somehow streamline the regulatory process, make it easier for applicants, and put decisions closer to the people who are most directly affected. Likely this change would end up doing none of these things. Most counties do not currently have the capacity or experience to do this work. And while the bills call for the State sharing information and, in LD 1256, one to two staff planners, each county would be expected to assume the ongoing costs of creating and maintaining its own planning infrastructure to support the new regulatory responsibilities and provide the legal support for review, enforcement, and defense of its review decisions. Large landowners should not be shocked to find out that the biggest opposition to development plans comes not from staff and commissioners at LURC, but from local camp and smaller property owners .
As with many planning and regulatory systems, there is room for improvement, but that does not justify abandoning a system that could be improved for one that is likely to promote unpredictable and conflicting systems, duplication of costs and efforts, and simply shifts costs to county and municipal governments. Planners know from working closely with developers that predictability in development review is critical. Proposed legislation to create three or more separate permitting systems, rather than the one currently administered by LURC, will add to the uncertainty and cost for developers.
A good example of the unpredictability that would come about if LURC’s responsibilities are transferred to counties is when a proposed development crosses county lines, as Plum Creek does. Developers would need approvals from each county, need to file two applications, pay two sets of fees, and attend meetings in both jurisdictions. The duplication of effort, multiple layers of review, potentially different review criteria, and uncertainty in outcome is a recipe for inefficient, time consuming, and costly development processes that could result in developers reconsidering investment decisions and certainly would increase the cost of regulatory review.
Unchecked development can have dramatic impacts on economies and ecosystems, costing far more than is necessary or returned in value. In this era of concern about government expenditures, we cannot afford to waste or recklessly spend precious funds in poorly located and randomly identified areas. Even if infrastructure is paid for by the private sector, it usually brings long term costs to the public sector. And we can hardly afford the infrastructure we currently have – adding schools and roads when we can’t pay to maintain what we have is irresponsible.
We need to support smart economic development with the fiscally responsible planning and regulation that LURC can provide. Setting the stage for smart economic development is as easy as PIE – make it Predictable, target investments in Infrastructure, and the resulting Efficiencies will attract businesses and reduce costs to governments at all levels. The State, with input from those who live in and near the 49% of the State that makes up our unorganized territories , needs to identify the best places to grow and then target funds to those areas to support that growth.
Once an area is developed, it is changed forever, so it is crucial that development plans are reviewed by experienced staff with appropriate expertise and there is broad opportunity for public involvement. MAP believes that transferring development planning and review to counties that do not have the staff, funds, or a statewide perspective could forever alter Maine’s natural resource legacy and undermine its long term economic development potential.
MAP would be happy to answer any questions you may have about our testimony and would be pleased to work with the Committee as it considers LDs 17, 1258, and 1534.
Thank you for your considering our concerns.