AMC’s Maine Policy Manager Kaitlyn Bernard recently attended a public hearing before the Maine Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) regarding proposed changes to their zoning system. More than 40 people spoke up at the public hearing and more than 80 people were in attendance. You can learn more about the issue, including finding other public comments and a detailed proposal, on the LUPC website.
The LUPC is accepting public comments on this proposal until September 24, 2018. Please visit the Conservation Action Center to add your comments today.
You can download AMC’s comments, or read them here.
The Appalachian Mountain Club is the nation’s oldest outdoor recreation and conservation organization. We are dedicated to promoting the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of the Northeast. Here in Maine, we own and manage 75,000 acres of land in Piscataquis County, and focus our efforts on public outdoor recreation, resource protection, sustainable forestry, and community partnerships. This project, called the Maine Woods Initiative (MWI), is the largest land conservation effort in AMC’s 140-year history. Our experience provides us with multiple interests in the adjacency review process as a landowner, recreation facility operator, and conservation organization.
The unorganized territories are a unique and invaluable resource to the state. The mostly undeveloped landscape of the jurisdiction provides a wide range of economic, social and ecological benefits to landowners, local communities, residents and visitors, each of whom has their own reasons for valuing it.
After a thorough review of the proposed changes and an ongoing dialogue with LUPC staff, AMC proposes the following recommendations to encourage development near the communities in and near the UT.
Encouraging development along roads for 10 miles from the boundary of the rural hubs identified in the proposed rules will have negative impacts on the character of the area and wildlife habitat. The distances outlined in the primary and secondary areas are much too far and don’t accomplish the stated goal of locating new development “close to existing development and public services”. AMC recommends running additional analysis to test alternative distances in the primary locations. We recommend 3 miles from a rural hub and within 1 mile of a public road as a much more appropriate starting point.
In addition, many of the roads that would be open for development under this new system are designated scenic byways. A quick search shows Maine’s scenic byways are popular travel destinations. Route 201 has the additional distinction of being named a Federal National Scenic Byway called the “Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway”. The Maine Tourism Association has an entire page dedicated to these routes describing them as:
“Boasting one of the oldest Scenic Byway programs in the country, Maine offers travelers diverse landscapes such as the Western Mountains and the rugged Downeast coastline. Maine’s Byways feature outstanding year-round recreation opportunities, well-preserved rural character, traditional arts and culture, abundant wildlife.”
Designated scenic byways should receive a higher level of protection. AMC recommends retaining a 1-mile adjacency provision for scenic byways or limiting the primary areas along scenic byways to 1 mile from rural hubs.
AMC appreciates the ongoing efforts from LUPC staff to refine the rural hub list to encompass the most appropriate places for development. We especially appreciate the removal of specific areas where geographic features or regional preferences were taken into consideration.
AMC would like to recommend some additional changes to further refine the rural hub list. There are some areas where the presence of more than one rural hub in a region creates a long contiguous stretch of primary locations between communities. These contiguous sections would contribute to strip development and create a 20 mile or more stretch along some rural roads and scenic byways. We suggest removing the more remote rural hubs to break up these contiguous segments. Some specific townships we would suggest removing to address this issue include: Newry, Eustis, and Jackman.
We have also expressed concern throughout the process about how measurements are conducted in this proposal. While we prefer measuring allowable distance by road mile and from the town centers, we understand there are inherent logistical challenges. Perhaps LUPC can find a better proxy to measure from within the designated rural hubs. If the major issue is the provision of emergency services, perhaps the staff can work with these emergency service providers or community leaders to identify a better starting point for measurement or the limits of their services. The key is to better anticipate public service needs and measuring from the border of a rural hub seems to unnecessarily add substantial distance to the proposal depending on where the town center is physically located in the parcel.
AMC is concerned about the implications of allowing low density subdivisions. We fundamentally oppose the development of “kingdom lots” and see them as a real driver of habitat fragmentation and inappropriate for the UT. In rereading the research on market conditions conducted by LUPC staff in September 2015, we understand that there are regional differences in desirable characteristics for a marketable lot, but large lots run counter to the goal of this proposal and stated objectives of the CLUP. They take productive forest and farmland out of production, increase costs for public services, and close off large areas for hunting, fishing, and other recreation opportunities.
AMC would prefer to see the low-density subdivision category removed from consideration. We support the General Management Subdivision category and think this category along with the moderate and high density subdivision options should satisfy the majority of the needs in the region. If low density subdivisions remain in the final rule, we suggest LUPC staff cap the aggregate subdivision land area to 100 acres.
While we understand the general concept and desire for residential development near recreational resources, we are very concerned with the impact these developments will have on the experience these resources offer. In particular, we are concerned about the impacts on the expectations of the users, the level of use these resources can withstand, and the management goals of the various trails that would be impacted. There may be some specific recreational resources that are compatible with development but specific criteria must be developed to identify these places and protect those trails that are set up with different management and user experience goals. AMC suggests considering trail heads located within the designated rural hubs or trail heads with some level of existing development or adequate parking as a place to start to outline criteria to identify appropriate trail heads. Generally speaking motorized users are looking for a different experience than non-motorized users so special care should be taken to parse out those uses and expectations.
The Appalachian Trail, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, and many other permanent trails rely on a remote kind of recreational experience. That experience is wholly incompatible with residential development – especially development within one-half mile of these trails. Maine has some of the most remote sections of the AT and this proposal is a major threat to that reputation since it seems to drive development right to it. We understand that the intention of this section of rule is to allow development near trailheads, but as currently written it allows recreation-based residential activity within one-half mile of permanent trails. This is an important distinction and one that must be corrected and clearly defined.
Our read of the definitions in Section 10.08A also leaves the location of these subdivisions too open-ended. The rule states “D-RS subdistricts for recreation-based subdivisions may be located within one-half mile of the following:”. The use of the word may seems to allow them within and beyond this criteria.
In the same vein as above, we are concerned about how recreation day use facilities will fit with different types of recreation resources. People who choose to recreate in Maine’s UT expect a certain experience. Allowing equipment rentals, guide services, or pre-prepared food at or near these remote locations may be incompatible with the character of the resource. The proposed activity standards outline some guidelines for these types of activities but don’t address any characteristics about the user experience or capacity of the resource. These are important considerations that should be included in the permitting process for these types of facilities.
Ultimately, we believe these types of businesses should be located in the established communities in and around the UT to better support economic development efforts. Local outfitters and restaurants can creatively market their services by including gear delivery, shuttles, or bag lunch options for people traveling through who need these facilities.
AMC remains supportive of any effort to meaningfully incentivize all types of development within established communities in and around the UT. These towns are struggling to attract the development and residents they need to support the services they provide. We are deeply involved in the community development efforts in the Moosehead region and know that those communities are optimistic in the face of these challenges. They are trying to attract new businesses and families to the area. We believe the broad changes in this proposal that allow for development to locate too far beyond community borders will undermine these efforts.
We also want to thank the LUPC staff for their diligence in reviewing this proposal with us. Their attention to detail and openness throughout this process has helped us meaningfully engage as an interested stakeholder in this process. We know there are many other community leaders and stakeholders who have not yet had a chance to review this proposal and we hope LUPC staff will continue outreach throughout the comment period to ensure that key constituencies are included.