The Natural Resources Council of Maine remains deeply concerned about the impacts of a proposal by the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) to change criteria for adjacency. Adjacency is the screen that determines the general location of development in Maine’s Unorganized Territories (UT).
Following a public hearing in June, LUPC staff released a revision of their proposal in November. NRCM does not support LUPC’s revised proposed policy changes due to the negative impacts of these major proposed changes and the lack of sufficient information to fully evaluate the potential impacts of the rules. These rules could irreversibly harm the forests, waters, and wildlife of Maine's North Woods. Once existing protections are lost, it will be impossible to get them back.
NRCM’s Major Concerns with Changes to Adjacency Principle
• 1.3 million acres and 20% of the Unorganized Territories' lakes would be vulnerable to residential development. Residential subdivision development would be allowed on over 1.3 million acres (after subtracting out the lands that are already conserved) and on at least 317 lakes (20%) in LUPC jurisdiction—and we don’t know how many of these lakes are currently entirely undeveloped.
• Allowing development along any public road within 7 miles "as the crow flies" from the boundary of 41 “rural hubs” would lead to strip development. The seven mile by one mile primary development areas would allow commercial and residential strip development along currently forested, undeveloped roads (many of them scenic byways) and would undermine efforts by neighboring, rural communities to keep development within their towns as they attempt to preserve the economic viability of their local businesses.
• Commercial development would be allowed across the landscape. Commercial development would be allowed on approximately 824,000 acres and an unknown number of lakes in LUPC jurisdiction. Given that commercial development currently can only occur near development of a “similar type, use, occupancy, scale or intensity” or a “village center,” this is one of the most far-reaching proposed changes. It would forever change the character of municipalities near Unorganized Territories.
• Loosening the rules to allow large lot subdivisions risks fragmentation of the North Woods. Sprawling large lot residential subdivisions (15 – 25 acres), also called kingdom lots, were abolished by the legislature in 2001. Under this proposal, large lot subdivisions would once again be allowed on an unknown percentage of the 1.3 million acres, likely hundreds of thousands of acres. Sprawling development would eat up large parcels of forestland.
• Recreation supply businesses far from towns would commercialize Maine's North Woods, undermine businesses in local communities, and compete with existing sporting camps. “Recreation supply facilities” would be allowed across the landscape, within ¼ mile of public access points on most lakes (classes 4, 5, and 7) and on Class 3 lakes. This would degrade the undeveloped character of forests and lakes, threaten communities by encouraging development far out of town, and compete with existing sporting camps.
• Subdivisions with limited environmental review would be allowed across the landscape. Subdivisions of up to 14 lots and 30 acres would be allowed with only limited environmental review on approximately 400,000 acres.
• Requirements for open space associated with residential subdivisions would attract development to permanently conserved lands. Subdivision standards allowing developers to avoid the requirement to provide common open space if they locate near permanently conserved lands will attract development to them.
• The rules are complicated, making it difficult to fully understand, evaluate, or predict their potential impacts. The proposed new system is so complicated that it is difficult to understand what activities would be allowed where and to evaluate the likely impacts.
• The proposal to review the rules in five years would be completely ineffective. The proposal to include language in the basis statement relating to a future review of the rules is completely insufficient and would be entirely ineffective in ensuring the protection of the resources. Once development opportunities are granted through the designation of primary and secondary locations, it could be legally impossible to take them back.
NRCM supports the following provisions of the draft rules:
• Guaranteed legal right of access The requirement that all residential subdivisions provide guaranteed legal right of access from a public road or from a public or private boat launch.
• Hillside development standards
NRCM opposes the proposed rule changes. We support maintaining the current policy of allowing Unorganized Territories development one mile by road from existing, compatible development until LUPC engages in regional planning, preferably in conjunction with municipalities that share a border with the Unorganized Territories. To read the proposal, please visit LUPC’s website.
LUPC’s second public hearing on the proposal was held on Thursday, January 10, 2019.
- Read NRCM's testimony, given by Forests & Wildlife Project Director Cathy Johnson.
- Read additional NRCM testimony on this proposal below in Additional Resources.
- Bangor Daily News op-ed by NRCM Forests & Wildlife Project Director Cathy Johnson, "With Proposed Development Rule Change, Maine's North Woods Hangs in the Balance"
- Bangor Daily News editorial, "Allowing Sprawling Development Would Hurt Towns, Wildlife and Wilderness"
- Portland Press Herald editorial, "Rule Paves the Way for Wrong Kind of Growth in Rural Maine"
Banner photo: Shoreline of Square Lake in Aroostook County. Photo by J.Monkman/NRCM