Good afternoon Senator Dill, Representative Hickman, and members of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee. My name is Cathy Johnson. I live in Alna. I am here today on behalf of more than 20,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) to speak in support of LD 1561, An Act to Amend the Maine Land Use Planning Commission Laws and Enhance the Economic Vitality of Neighboring Communities.
The Land Use Regulation Commission, now called the Land Use Planning Commission, has served the people of Maine well for decades. By guiding future development to areas where development already exists, it has helped maintain Maine’s unorganized townships in a largely undeveloped condition, protecting its forests, lakes, and rivers from damaging development sprawl, and supporting our forestry and outdoor recreation economies. Mainers from all walks of life love the North Woods for the opportunities to hunt, fish, hike, camp, and unwind from daily pressures of life.
But NRCM is very concerned about changes that have occurred in recent years. We are concerned about the loss of a statewide perspective at the Commission. We believe that having the governor appoint 4 of the 9 LUPC Commissioners would ensure that both statewide and local perspectives are considered. It would also ensure that a variety of areas of expertise are represented on the Commission, something that is not possible under the current system.
We are also very concerned about the recent changes to the adjacency principle.
For decades, development in the North Woods was directed to areas that were one-mile-by-road from existing development of a similar type – the “adjacency principle.” The new rules throw out this easy-to-understand system.
The new rules would allow:
- Commercial development on 668,000 acres spread across the North Woods.
- Residential subdivisions in those areas plus an additional 297,000 acres, for a total of 965,000 acres, approximately 10% of Maine’s Unorganized Territory.
This commercial and residential development would be spread out seven miles along public roads leading out of so-called “rural hubs.” At a time when development pressures are low, and most communities that border the unorganized townships are losing businesses and residents, designating this much land for development strung out along undeveloped roads is a recipe for sprawl that damages forests and wildlife, and increases costs to provide public services.
The new rules would once again allow large-lot (25-acre) residential subdivision development, a type of development that eats up forestland and wildlife habitat. Because of its negative impacts, large-lot subdivisions were abolished by this Legislature in 2001. Allowing them once again is a big step backwards.
The rules would also allow development on hundreds of lakes, some of them entirely undeveloped, and many of them unidentified, because LUPC staff do not have sufficient information to identify which lakes would be developable.
These, and many other problems with the new rules, are particularly regrettable because they are unnecessary. LD 1561 suggests some alternate ways to refine LUPC’s planning rules that would not have the unintended negative consequences of the new rules.
The bill would promote regional planning in those areas where the organized towns border unorganized townships. Directives to guide development into those towns would strengthen the tax base of the towns while limiting the cost of providing public services. One area where regional planning would be particularly effective is the Katahdin region. Gail Fanjoy, the former President of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce and a former Millinocket Selectwoman, could not be here today but sent a letter in strong support of this approach.
The bill would require developers to do an alternatives analysis before receiving the right to rezone forested land for development. This would help ensure that if there are suitable empty commercial properties or unoccupied housing stock available nearby, they would be used before developing forests and wildlife habitat.
Directing the Land Use Planning Commission to do an inventory of structures in the jurisdiction so that the impact of any proposed new rules would be known before the rules are implemented would enable the Commission itself, the Legislature, and the public to know the impact of any proposed new rules.
The new rules are the biggest policy change in the Commission’s history. Ninety-five percent of the public who sent in comments about the proposed rules raised major objections. Given the magnitude of the changes and the strong public concerns, we urge you to exercise your prerogative for legislative oversight and adopt this bill, which would put the rules on hold, enable the agency to gather needed information, ensure that the statewide perspective is included on the Commission, direct development to existing developed areas, and put the agency on a path toward additional collaborative regional planning.
Thank you for your consideration. I would be happy to answer any questions.