Maine is rare in that it encompasses over 10 million acres of sparsely populated and relatively undeveloped land — unique to any state east of the Mississippi. We are fortunate to have this resource in our midst especially as the vast majority of it is privately owned.
The Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) serves as the planning board for this remote region, the Unorganized Territories, ensuring that our common interest is considered as change is proposed for the land or its use. The commission itself was redesigned seven years ago after input from a reform commission. That reform changed the name, from the Land Use Regulation Commission to the Land Use Planning Commission, sought to balance preservation and protection with support for economic vitality, shift review of forestry and large site development to the Department of Environmental Protection, bring staff resources closer to those who live and work in the UT, and increase county and regional input into the commission and its operations. This reform spawned regional planning efforts as well as significant review and revision to the commission’s rules in the areas of subdivision regulation and the adjacency principle, among others. Commission staff were already well advanced in their excellent efforts to improve the regulation of recreational lodging in the jurisdiction.
The adjacency principle, now the focus of reform, is a tool, established in the 1976 Comprehensive Land Use Plan, that addresses the basic goal of locating new development near existing development. When you are regulating 10 million acres and there are very limited, nearly uniform types of development activity, a basic tool gets the job done.
However, as early as the 1983 plan update, the adjacency principle was deemed “not sufficiently well defined…[nor] to relate well to the realistic circumstances of [the] jurisdiction.” By 2010, the comprehensive plan held that application of the adjacency rule had resulted in “a proliferation of small development districts throughout the jurisdiction” and that it did not “necessarily focus development near the most appropriate areas.” The 2010 Comprehensive Land Use Plan further observes that adjacency can sanction “a ‘leapfrogging’ effect in which each new next development can be measured” so that it “does not prevent the leading edge of development from moving progressively deeper into undeveloped areas.”
The changing market and landowner conditions of 2010 asked for more guidance on appropriate use or intensity than the adjacency tool could provide. Its “one-size-fits-all” one-mile threshold allows development on an entire coastal island. It is also reactive by design, necessitating the inefficiency of case by case staff response in a jurisdiction of 10 million acres. Thus, contrary to the question posed in the Jan 24 BDN editorial, it is abundantly clear why the proposed changes are needed.
The Land Use Planning Commission has undertaken a 4-year effort to improve this blunt, never-efficient tool. The recommended rules are grounded in recent and relevant data, in new social and economic realities, widespread public input, thorough response and revision to that input, and demonstrated respect for regional planning initiatives undertaken over the last three decades in the Unorganized Territories.
The new rules are responsive to the geographic needs of those who live, work and own businesses in the UT. They include thoughtful approaches to adapting over time and to the unknown. The proposal is grounded in sound land use planning principles of directing future growth near existing services and infrastructure, accommodating the unique location needs of resource-dependent businesses, preserving water quality, wildlife habitat, and forest resources. We support these changes and salute the commission for the enormous effort they have taken in crafting them.
Judy East is a 30-year veteran of planning in rural New York and New England and currently serves as executive director of the Washington County Council of Governments. Don Kleiner, a Registered Maine Guide for 35 years, currently serves as executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association.