As a state panel moves forward with its review of the often maligned Land Use Regulation Commission, a coalition of environmental and planning groups has come up with a reasonable outline for changes to the agency. Their suggestions should be carefully considered.
The task force, which meets in Ashland on Thursday, was the result of legislative debate spearheaded by some lawmakers who argued that many of LURC’s regulatory responsibilities — such as permitting — should be handed back to local or county governments. Rather than pass such legislation, lawmakers decided to create a committee to scrutinize LURC, which is, in essence, the planning board for the state’s more than 10,000 acres of Unorganized Territory, those areas without municipal jurisdictions.
At its first meeting in Bangor last month, the group set reasonable standards for its work.
They include: that uniform standards for forestry, wildlife habitat and agriculture as well as sound planning, zoning and permitting principles should persist; residents of and landowners within the UT should have significant input on decisions; strong environmental protections should be maintained while recognizing the land is private property; and Maine should encourage and facilitate regional economic vitality in the UT.
“I’m not sure we need to euthanize the patient, but I certainly believe it needs some surgery,” said review panel member Donald White, president and CEO of the timberland management firm Prentiss & Carlisle.
In the same vein, groups including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, GrowSmart Maine and the Maine Association of Planners have proposed LURC reforms. For example, they suggest that the agency work more closely with regions in the UT that want to undertake regional planning and zoning work, with an emphasis on including local residents.
They also suggest increasing representation of the Unorganized Territory on LURC and a “money back” guarantee if permits for small projects aren’t processed in a set period of time.
These and other improvements to LURC make much more sense than abolishing or severely weakening the agency.