It’s officially Plum Creek’s call.
State regulators gave Plum Creek a formal answer Wednesday nearly 3½ years after the company unveiled Maine’s largest development proposal: Either accept our changes to your Moosehead Lake plan or risk walking away empty-handed.
Plum Creek officials, who have until Oct. 14 to respond to the Land Use Regulation Commission, said they were glad to see their proposal moving forward.
“We’re pleased to be at this juncture,” Luke Muzzy, Plum Creek’s project manager, said moments after LURC unanimously endorsed the list of changes. “It’s been a long three years and we are really pleased to be at a point where you can see the finish line.”
For Plum Creek, the “finish line” would be LURC approval of a rezoning plan for 975 house lots and two large resorts near Maine’s largest lake. LURC staff and commissioners are recommending a long list of changes to the plan. However, the two most contentious aspects of the plan — the total number of house lots and development on Lily Bay — remain in the proposal.
A final vote on the plan is not expected until early next year, and even then developers would need to receive a litany of additional approvals and permits before breaking ground on any of the Plum Creek projects.
LURC approval would also trigger the permanent conservation of more than 400,000 acres of forestland in the region, which commissioners have said was critical to their endorsement of Plum Creek’s historic development plan.
Plum Creek’s proposal has been controversial since the day it was announced in April 2005. While supporters view the planned growth and resorts as a model for economic revival, opponents predict the development will spoil the natural beauty that draws tourists to the region.
Thousands of people have weighed in on the proposal on all sides.
A number of audience members at Wednesday’s LURC meeting in Bangor vented their frustrations by accusing the commission of ignoring public opposition to the plan and, in particular, the proposal for a resort and subdivisions at Lily Bay.
LURC staff or commissioners sought to fend off the criticisms by pointing out that Plum Creek’s plan has changed significantly during the past three years. The agency held four well-attended public hearings, reviewed thousands of comments and spent hundreds of hours reviewing the proposal in public meetings.
“My view is everybody had an impact on where we are today even if we didn’t get to the position where you would want us to be,” commission chairman Bart Harvey told the audience.
“This is certainly far and away the largest deliberative effort I have ever seen the commission participate in,” said Stephen Wight, who has logged more than 20 years with LURC. “It’s quite an amazing effort.”
Such comments did little to placate opponents, however.
Jym St. Pierre with RESTORE: The North Woods, who is a former LURC staff member, criticized the commission for taking it upon itself to craft amendments that would allow the plan to pass muster. RESTORE and other groups had urged the commission to reject the plan outright.
“I’ve never seen a situation like this where staff and now the commissioners have become the advocates for a rezoning petition,” St. Pierre said.
But John Simko, the town manager of Greenville, praised the commission for inviting so much public participation on the process. Simko said he understands that not everyone will be pleased with the current version, but he said he was frustrated by some opponents’ refusal to compromise on a plan that he and others believe will benefit the area economically.
“I think most people in town feel that the plan is predominantly a good plan for the region,” Simko said after Wednesday’s meeting. Greenville’s Board of Selectmen also has endorsed the current plan.
Earlier this week, four Plum Creek opponents were arrested in Augusta after locking themselves together and refusing to leave the office building that houses LURC. While lower-key than the protests on Monday, LURC’s meeting in Bangor still involved at least one arrest.
Members of the grass-roots group Native Forest Network, which has advocated a “no compromise” position on Plum Creek’s application, attempted several times to bring a cake reading “Congratulations Plum Creek” inside the meeting venue.
Each time they were instructed by police to leave the large cake outside. After the third attempt, Bangor police arrested a man — identified by group members as 59-year-old Peter Brenc of Dover-Foxcroft — and charged him with disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing.