Lawmakers were right to delay any decisions about the future of the Land Use Regulation Commission until a review of the agency is completed. This makes sense, but only if the study of LURC is objective.
The group doing the study is to be appointed by the governor, Speaker of the House and Senate President. Senate President Kevin Raye excoriated LURC last month while testifying in favor of a bill to abolish the commission. Gov. LePage has also been a critic.
Given their mindset, concern that they won’t appoint objective people to the review committee is warranted.
The group should begin by considering whether LURC needs to be reformed, not with the premise that major changes are needed.
Testifying last month in support of a bill to abolish LURC and parcel its duties out to the counties and other state agencies, Raye said “the acronym LURC is synonymous with heavy-handed government bureaucracy and overreach.” The agency, the Washington County lawmaker said, “more closely resembles a colonial power.”
“The fact is that the LURC model is not worthy of a democratic society,” Raye told members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.
It doesn’t seem someone with such extreme views will appoint impartial people to a LURC study group.
Any such review must begin with an object look at LURC’s history. While the agency has been criticized since its creation in 1971, its record is strong.
It has protected the North Maine Woods from haphazard development that would have diminished the region as a national and international draw for thousands of sportsmen every year.
The region, first made famous by naturalist and writer Henry David Thoreau, continues to draw hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers and others to its unspoiled waters (home to one of the country’s last populations of wild brook trout) and scenic vistas.
The Unorganized Territory is home to thriving, privately managed timberlands. Many of the region’s landowners have given up their development rights through conservation easements over the last decade.
LURC has protected the landscape without shutting down development. It has approved more than 90 percent of building and development permits and rezoning requests. This doesn’t seem “heavy-handed.”
Since 2006, the average time for approval of a building permit has been 11 days; 115 days for a subdivision permit.
This is not to say that LURC doesn’t need improvement. It could be more responsive to landowners and residents of the state’s 10-million acre Unorganized Territory, for example. But creating a group to tear LURC apart won’t solve such concerns.