AUGUSTA, Maine — The 40-year- old Maine Land Use Regulation Commission would be abolished and zoning responsibilities for the state’s Unorganized Territory transferred to the counties under a measure introduced by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville.
“The issue for me was the Plum Creek hearings and the costs for that permitting,” he said. “My bill would send this whole thing back to the counties and let the counties develop a plan and a permitting process.”
Davis said there may well be changes to his proposal as it goes through the committee process, but he strongly believes the oversight of development in the UT should be by the elected county officials. He said local officials are better able to regulate development than state bureaucrats.
“It cost Plum Creek $25 million to go through the permitting process,” he said. “That’s just to get permits to build the project.”
David said there should be a planning board function for the UT, but he believes that would be best done at the county level and at less cost. He said projects that might cross county lines could be handled by the two counties involved instead of needing a state bureaucracy like LURC.
“It’s pretty clear what we are doing now does not work and we need to do something else,” he said. “I am not suggesting there should not be government oversight over what happens in all this land mass. We need to change it.”
LURC was designed to provide the planning board, code enforcement and permitting staff for the plantations, townships and other unorganized areas of the state which total more than 10 million acres.
In the past four years LURC has approved nearly $1 billion in commercial and residential development.
Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said LURC has worked well over the years to provide the needed oversight of both commercial and residential development. He said it was created because counties did not want the responsibility, and cost, of providing the oversight.
“The counties don’t want it, I can tell you that,” Martin said. “I talked to Aroostook County leadership and they have no interest and no ability and do not want to raise the funds to do what would be necessary to do — basically zoning.”
Robert Howe, executive director of the Maine County Commissioners Association, said the organization has not discussed the proposal, let alone taken a position. He guesses some commissioners will like the idea and others will not.
Martin doubted that any counties would want to take on the additional costs, but Davis said his legislation would provide funding by allowing the county registry of deeds to keep revenues they now send to the Maine State Housing Authority.
“Currently, the registry of deeds in each county keeps 10 percent of their revenues and sends 90 percent to the Maine State Housing Authority,” he said, “I would propose to reverse that.”
Martin blasted that idea. He said that revenue is used to support the first-time homebuyer program that has helped thousands of Mainers.
“So we have no housing for poor people in Maine? That makes even less sense,” he said. “I would hope the Legislature would see through the concept that is being developed here that would create more problems in the end.”
Davis said he expected there would be people both in and out of the Legislature that would not like his idea. But, he said, only a proposal such as his would provoke the debate needed to truly reform LURC.
“I don’t think there are many people who would say there are not changes needed,” he said.
Martin said he would agree that any agency of state government should from time to time be reviewed to see whether it could do its job better. But, he said, that is a far cry from abolishing a program.
A public hearing on the bill has not been scheduled.