Agency considers altering wilderness zoning rules in Maine
By DAVID SHARP
Aug. 18, 2018
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The agency overseeing development in Maine's vast wilderness is considering dramatic changes that would alter restrictions on where subdivisions and businesses can be built.
The Land Use Planning Commission is proposing scrapping its longstanding rule that limits a development to within a mile of something similar. Instead, it would allow residential and business development within 10 miles by public road of any of 46 rural "hubs."
The agency wants to put developments "in the right areas" near hubs instead of relying on the current rule that allows them willy-nilly based on existing developments, said LUPC Director Nick Livesay.
The agency believes focusing future developments around hubs would help the rural economy and protect the environment, he said.
Critics fear that the proposal would open more unspoiled land to development, altering the landscape Maine's North Woods.
But Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, said the proposed changes don't go far enough to encourage development in Maine's unorganized territories.
"Something needs to be done to enhance economic opportunities in the jurisdiction both for recreation, residential and commercial development," he said in a statement.
The planning commission manages unorganized territories, vast woodlands that encompass about half the state — 10 million acres — but are inhabited by fewer than 10,000 residents.
Catherine Johnson, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, questioned the need for such a dramatic change in zoning regulations.
"It's really an open question whether there's a problem here that needs to be solved," he said.
Those who love the unspoiled land say there are too few people to support large-scale development. But Strauch said people who live in the rural region deserve economic opportunities, and that the population will continue to decline without them.
Kip Cleaver, of Rockland, said he opposes changes but sees both sides of the economic development argument.
People need jobs, and that's why they've twice elected Republican Gov. Paul LePage, he said, but it's also important to retain undeveloped land that makes Maine special.
"What Maine has is so precious and unique," Cleaver said. "It just seems like a big threat to have more development."
The planning commission has been flooded with public comments. Many either opposed the proposed changes, or asked the agency to slow down.
The agency originally envisioned voting in November, but it will push back the timetable at its meeting next month.