AUGUSTA, Maine — The final recommendations from the legislative work group established to reform the Land Use Regulation Commission have been released.
Maine Conservation Commissioner Bill Beardsley, chairman of the work group, said the final report was approved unanimously by the 13 members. It also was accompanied by draft legislation.
“The reform commission focused on what we all agreed on from Day One, and that commitment to find common ground is reflected in our final report,” he said. “Individually, each of us would have worded things differently. Yet considered in its entirety, we all agree that the outcome is fair, considerate and practical.”
Some highlights of the recommendations include:
• Retaining a statewide land-use planning, zoning and permitting board for the unorganized territories, with the majority of board members selected by counties that contain such areas.
• Rewording LURC’s “Purpose and Scope” to value both conservation and economic viability.
• Shifting major site development applications in the UT to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and forest management activities to the Maine Forest Service.
• Relocating of LURC staff geographically closer to the UT.
Some lawmakers said they were surprised that the report was turned into draft legislation, a step that usually falls to the committee of jurisdiction, in this case the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.
“I think they might have overreached a little,” said Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan, the lead Democrat on the committee. “The group was supposed to present a report, not a bill.”
The 13-member commission, made up of appointees by Gov. Paul LePage, Senate President Kevin Raye and House Speaker Robert Nutting, held six meetings throughout the state. The meetings were lively at times and featured testimony from a wide variety of interested parties.
For four decades, LURC has been the planning and zoning arm of the state’s 10 million acres of Unorganized Territory.
When the work group initially was created, many feared it would lead to the abolition of LURC. That fear was fueled after it was revealed that some of the appointees had spoken publicly in favor of abolishing the commission, but a compromise eventually emerged.
“We have crafted a set of recommendations that retain a statewide board while assuring citizen and local input,” Beardsley said. “We have renewed the state’s broad commitment to conservation of our natural resources while codifying respect for private property and a commitment to economic vitality for Maine’s most rural counties.”
Conservation groups across the state still have some reservations about the recommendations.
“We are pleased that the LURC reform committee backed away from abolishing LURC, but a number of the provisions of their proposal could result in the same outcome depending on how the details are worked out,” said Cathy Johnson of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The full impact of the LURC reform committee’s proposals has not yet been evaluated. Implementing the recommendations could have very serious and problematic unintended consequences.”
Some of those concerns include: allowing county commissioners to appoint themselves as LURC commissioners and allowing counties to opt out of LURC under certain criteria.
“The ‘county drop-out’ proposal would allow counties to withdraw from the currently unified system that should consistently apply to the entire unorganized territories,” said Bryan Wentzell of the Appalachian Mountain Club. “Such a ‘drop-out’ could result in increased unpredictability for applicants, inequity for landowners and confusion for the public when divergent standards emerge.”
McCabe said he doesn’t believe his committee will rubber-stamp the proposal and he hopes some of the concerns will be addressed before the legislation moves forward.