by Cathy Johnson, NRCM North Woods Project Director and Senior Staff Attorney
Good afternoon Sen. Goodall, Rep. Duchnesne and members of the Committee. My name is Cathy Johnson. I am here today on behalf of the 12,000 members and supporters of Natural Resources Council of Maine in strong support of L.D. 1333.
I am the North Woods Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine and my comments will focus primarily on those portions of the bill that apply to the unorganized territories under the jurisdiction of the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC).
How much energy we use, the cost of that energy and the impacts of our energy use on the planet’s climate are driven in large part by the decisions that we make about where to locate development. When residential development is located a long way from grocery stores, schools, churches, post offices, and other services that people use on a daily or weekly basis, people have to drive long distances, using more expensive imported oil and resulting in more air pollution.
The Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) is the state agency responsible for overseeing planning and development permitting in the half of the state that is made up of unorganized townships, those towns with no local government. All of LURC jurisdiction is divided into one of three types of land use districts or zones: development zones, management zones or protection zones. Development zones are intended for intensive residential, recreational, commercial or industrial development. Management zones are areas where forestry and agriculture are the primary uses. Protection zones are areas of significant natural, historic or recreational resources. If development is proposed for an area in a management or protection zone, it is generally necessary for the land to be rezoned to development before significant development can occur.
Section B-3 of the bill incorporates consideration of the impacts of the proposed development on energy use and costs, and climate change into LURC’s existing rezoning process. However, this will only be effective if development proposed in LURC jurisdiction is reviewed through a rezoning process.
LURC has recently reviewed all of the development permits issued since the agency was established in 1971. What they found was that well over 2/3rds of the development which has occurred in LURC jurisdiction since 1971 occurred without any review as to the appropriateness of the location of the development. In other words, the development occurred without consideration of whether the development was proposed in a development zone, a management zone, or a protection zone.
LURC’s review of their permits also found that development occurred in 331 separate townships, out of the total of 459 unorganized townships. This means that 72% of all the unorganized townships had development and that much of that development was not located anywhere near stores, schools and other services needed by homeowners. This type of spread out development pattern significantly increases energy use and costs, and results in harmful air pollution.
Section B-1 of the bill would address both of these problems. This section would continue to allow a limited amount of residential development in all townships and zones – development, management, and protection – without review as to the appropriateness of location. Specifically, every landowner would still have the ability to develop two lots without rezoning the land. However, in those cases where the landowner wants to do a subdivision of three of more lots in management or protection zones, locations that LURC has not yet reviewed as to whether they are appropriate or not, the proposed development area would have to get rezoned to a development zone. During the rezoning process, in accordance with Section B-3 of this bill, the energy costs and air pollution impacts of the development would be considered.
We have heard it suggested that this change requiring more intensive development to go through a rezoning process will take away a landowner’s value. There is nothing to back up that assertion. Certainly Plum Creek, McPherson Timberlands, or any of the other developers who have developed subdivisions in the North Woods after receiving rezoning permits from LURC have found it financially profitable because they keep coming back for more.
Despite what some opponents may suggest, this bill does not take away anyone’s opportunity to develop. It simply requires the developer to rezone the area to a development zone if they are doing more than two lots in areas that have not already been designated development zones.
Reviewing the location of more intensive development will decrease our energy use and costs, and decrease the amount of harmful air pollution created. It will also ensure that wildlife habitat is not fragmented, important recreational areas for hunting, fishing, hiking and paddling are not needlessly degraded, and ensure that forestry operations are not adversely affected.
L.D. 1333 will have a wide variety of benefits to Maine’s people, our climate and Maine’s wildlife. We urge you to vote Ought to Pass on L.D. 1333.
Thank you for your attention.