Regional comprehensive planning is key to growing Maine’s economy in a way that builds resilient communities and protects working and natural landscapes. Whether in the relatively healthy southern part of the state or in the more challenged rim counties, a process to recognize the valuable assets in a region and building a plan to strengthen the economy is essential to Maine’s health and future.
Last year, the Land Use Regulation Commission was replaced with the Land Use Planning Commission in a process that called upon the Joint Legislative Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry as well as a diverse and committed stakeholder group that met numerous times across the state. The intent was to ensure that the reconfigured Commission would be successful in balancing the many needs and interests related to Maine’s unorganized territories.
We are seeing the work of the new LUPC with the initiation of Community Guided Planning and Zoning. First, a bit of background, and then an update.
From the LUPC website: The responsibility of serving the unorganized and deorganized areas of Maine and helping guide land use in these areas represents a unique challenge. These areas cover over half the State, encompassing more than 10.4 million acres and include the largest contiguous undeveloped area in the northeast. The unorganized and deorganized areas include several coastal islands and portions of downeast Maine, and stretch across the western mountains and up to the Canadian border. These areas are important to the vitality of both the State and local economies, are home to many Mainers, and are enjoyed by Maine residents and visitors in pursuit of outdoor recreation activities, including hunting, fishing, boating, hiking and camping. The Legislature created the Commission to extend principles of sound planning, zoning and development to the unorganized and deorganized areas of the State.
The 2010 Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) identifies this type of planning, referred to as prospective zoning, as a priority for implementation. LUPC Commissioners and staff have long recognized that the current reactive approach of case by case rezonings for development projects is not workable over the long-term, and the intent has always been to more proactively plan for development within the jurisdiction. To date, the Commission has undertaken prospective zoning in the Rangeley Lakes region, as well as in several townships that have deorganized since LUPC formed (Centerville, Greenfield, and Madrid).
To fulfill this prospective zoning, LUPC reached out across the unorganized territories to find those ready and willing to engage in Community Guided Planning and Zoning. In December and January, the LUPC Commissioners and staff evaluated fifteen letters of interest submitted for consideration. Of these, four were identified as the strongest candidates; one from Aroostook County, one from Washington County and two for the Western Mountains region of Maine.
The LUPC has since selected the Aroostook proposal to begin the first round of facilitated discussions with interested parties, looking to outline the planning process, define the goals of the process and outline the geographic area to be included in the process. A joint proposal from Planning Decisions and LandForms was accepted for providing independent, neutral facilitation services for regional workshops. Following this process, the planning process would begin.
Jay Kamm, Senior Planner of the Northern Maine Development Commission, which will be the lead agency for the CGPZ process, spoke about this new collaboration. “We are excited about this. Our work in the unorganized territory has been piecemeal, with some work in transportation, solid waste and scenic byways. But now, with assistance from the LUPC staff, we can engage in an across-the-board approach, looking for sensible locations for various zones. Response from residents has been all positive.”
We can’t underestimate the significance of regional planning efforts. In reaching across the sectors of transportation, economic development, conservation, housing, Mainers can fully integrate these aspects of life to create stronger, sustainable communities. We’ll keep you up to date as we continue to engage in this important process.