Piscataquis County official questions Vermont couple’s plan to develop vacation homes in Big Moose Township

Posted Jan. 08, 2014, at 12:01 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A Vermont couple who own 38 acres in Big Moose Township would like to develop the land into 13 house lots, citing the demand for premium vacation homes and the economic boost it would bring to the region.

But County Commissioner Eric Ward said he had reservations about the project, and recently wrote a letter to the Land Use Planning Commission questioning the need for the development and the perceived benefits to the community.

Last week, landowner Esther Wagenheim, real estate broker Rodney Folsom and several contractors attended the Dec. 31 Piscataquis County Commissioners’ meeting and expressed support for the plan.

While the county commissioners don’t have the authority to approve or reject any zoning applications, their input will be considered when the application comes before LUPC. The application would change the zoning from General Management/Great Pond Protection to Residential Development.

Hugh Coxe, a senior planner with LUPC, said that when the agency receives a rezoning request, it has to be “consistent with the land use comprehensive plan and consistent with the purposes and intent of the statutes … and have no adverse impact on existing resources.”

LUPC also checks to see if the land proposed for rezoning is close to existing development, Coxe said, “because it would be an efficient use of infrastructure as well as efficient use of land.” Coxe added that ideally, new construction should take place within one road mile of compatible development “but it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. In fact, it’s not even in our statutes. It’s a guideline.”

Folsom said that the vacation home market “is important to the economy of the Moosehead Lake Region … There are few opportunities for employment in this area. If you’re not working for the school, the hospital or the town, you’re probably in the woods business or catering in some way to tourism or recreation.”

Folsom read excerpts from Ward’s letter which stated that the proposed 13 new homes “would add an additional burden to county services including solid waste disposal, coverage of the sheriff’s department and the cost of contracts covering fire and ambulance services.”

But Folsom said that Wagenheim’s company — CNE Real Estate — paid $50,000 in real estate taxes in 2012, which included a penalty for removing the land from tree growth. “Last year, they paid $13,500 just on the land … So I believe that there will be plenty of taxes to cover the limited services the county will provide,” Folsom said.

Wagenheim once lived in Newport, Vt., near Jay Peak ski area, which she described as “very much like Greenville. We are not big developers; we’re working people.” She and her husband operated ski equipment shops in Vermont for several years, she noted. “This is a very special piece of property but we just can’t afford to keep it undeveloped,” she said. Wagenheim added that while Plum Creek’s concept plan has been approved for developing several lots in the Moosehead Lake Region, “They haven’t done a thing so far and time is passing by.”

Scott Harding, a local contractor from Greenville, said that over 90 percent of his business “is from people who come to Moosehead [Lake] because it is a recreation destination.” He added that he has four children “and three have already departed Piscataquis County due to economic reasons: They can’t make a living here.”

Harding said he has one son who works for him, but he said that he’s encouraging him to look elsewhere. “Now that he has his own family and a kid on the way, I’d like him to have a job where he knows he’s going to get a paycheck every week,” he added.

Moosehead Builders owner Kyle Pelletier said that he hopes his four employees will stay in Greenville “so we can put some kids in our school. We’ve got declining enrollment and that’s a problem.” Pelletier said that construction “has a huge trickle-down effect on the economy. Greenville is dependent on it.”

Wayne Noyes, the manager of Hammond Lumber’s Greenville store, said that when he first went to work for the company in 1991, “We started with seven employees, went up to 24 or 25 and now we’re down to 11. The home building is not there. And just about everything we sell is to people who come here for the recreation.”

The county commissioners may make a decision on endorsing the rezoning plan at their next meeting and forward their findings to LUPC.

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