Public Hearing on LUPC’s Proposed Rule Revisions: Revised Application of the Adjacency Principle & Subdivision Standards
Testimony of Catherine B. Johnson
My name is Cathy Johnson and I am the Forests and Wildlife Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). NRCM has over 20,000 members and supporters including people who reside in each of Maine’s sixteen counties.
A new scientific report by one of Maine’s most well-respected ecologists, Janet McMahon, was released this week about the impacts of roads, power lines, and development on Maine’s Western Mountains region. I urge you to review the full report and heed its cautions. One of the report’s conclusions is specifically relevant to today’s hearing: “the Land Use Planning Commission’s proposed changes to the adjacency rule…have the potential to profoundly change the ecology of the region.”
NRCM supports the goal of directing future development in the North Woods to areas where there is existing development and the public services needed to support future development. Those areas consist principally of the organized towns that border the unorganized territories (UT) along with some village centers within the UT where there is significant population.
NRCM also supports the goal of protecting the vast majority of the North Woods in its relatively undeveloped condition. The undeveloped forests, lakes, and rivers support Maine’s forest products industry and outdoor recreation economy, protect our fisheries and wildlife, and provide Maine residents and visitors places for recreation and respite from our busy world.
NRCM thanks you for this additional public hearing and acknowledges the changes that have been made in this proposed rule. However, those changes do not dispel our fundamental concerns about the proposed rule. We do not support the proposed rule because we believe that it would harm both the natural resources of the jurisdiction and the economic viability of the communities that border the UT.
There are flaws with the fundamental approach of this proposal:
- Measuring the distance of primary development areas from the boundary of rural hubs is a cookie-cutter approach that has no relationship to what exists on the ground. The actual existing development in the rural hub could be located anywhere within the rural hub township – including on the far edge away from the UT. Measuring from the boundary of the rural hub township instead of from the actual node of development means the proposed new development area could be up to 13 miles away from the existing development.
- Measuring the distance of the primary development areas “as the crow flies” also ignores what exists on the ground in favor of a mathematical calculation. The “crow flies” provision would allow development even further away from existing development, depending on where the roads lie.
These and other flaws in this proposed system would allow development in places that are not suitable primary or secondary development areas when considering their natural resource values and the location of existing development nodes. A few examples of the inappropriate results of this system are proposed primary development locations in Elliotsville Plantation and Herseytown, Tomhegan, Sandy Bay, Bald Mountain, Riley, Freeman, and Madrid Townships.
Applying a mathematical formula instead of looking at what is on the ground also leads to inappropriate results like proposing Burnt Jacket Peninsula on Moosehead Lake as a subdivision development location despite the fact that this Commission found that that was an inappropriate location for a residential subdivision and denied a subdivision application in 2006.
The law requires this commission to apply principles of “sound planning [and] zoning.” Sound planning and zoning should start from what exists on the ground, not from lines on a map.
In addition to these fundamental flaws in the system, NRCM has many major concerns about the likely impacts of the proposed rule:
- 1.3 million acres and 20% (at least 317 according to LUPC’s calculations) of the UT’s lakes would be vulnerable to residential subdivision development.
- Commercial and residential subdivision development areas along any public road within 7 miles “as the crow flies” from the boundary of 41 “rural hubs” would lead to strip development. These public roads include five scenic byways. These development areas 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 on 824,000 of these acres (and an unknown number of lakes) scattering commercial development across the landscape.
- Despite being eliminated by the Legislature in 2001, large lot subdivisions would again be allowed on hundreds of thousands of acres, eating up large parcels of forestland.
- Recreation supply businesses far from towns would commercialize the North Woods, undermine businesses in local communities, and compete with existing sporting camps.
- Subdivisions of up to 14 lots and 30 acres with only limited environmental review would be allowed on approximately 400,000 of the 1.3 million acres.
- Subdivision standards allowing developers to avoid the requirement to provide common open space if they locate near permanently conserved lands would attract development to permanently conserved lands.
- The rules are so complicated that it is extremely difficult for both experts and the public to figure out what uses would be allowed where.
- The proposal to review the rules in five years would be completely ineffective because once development opportunities are granted through the designation of primary and secondary locations, it could be legally and politically impossible to take them back.
The current adjacency principle requiring development to be “one mile by road from existing, compatible development of similar type, use, occupancy, scale and intensity” may need to be strengthened as called for in your Comprehensive Land Use Plan, but the principle that future development should be near existing, compatible development by road should be retained.
We urge you to set this rule aside, gather up-to date data about the location of existing development in the UT, and engage in regional planning with towns that border the UT in order to guide development into those towns that want it. Only then, would it be appropriate to consider revising the current adjacency principle.
If the Commission believes that it does not have the funds to gather more current data or the authority to engage in regional planning with towns that border the UT, NRCM would be happy to work with you to request those funds and that authority from the Legislature.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.