State of Maine's Environment 2005
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An Environmental Assessment  
     
   

Comprehensive Planning and the Land Use Regulation Commission

Sandy J. Beauregard

Introduction†††††

††††††††††† Unlike most states in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, all of Maineís land is not part of a municipality or incorporated town; the majority of Maineís land area is classified as Unorganized Territories.1, 2The Unorganized Territories are townships and plantations that are not populated enough to warrant a local government; they account for 10.4 million acres of Maineís land area and fall under the jurisdiction of the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC).2†† LURC is responsible for administering planning and zoning regulations for the land within its jurisdiction.

††††††††††† On April 5, 2005 Seattle-based Plum Creek submitted a resource plan for their lands in the Moosehead Lake region. The plan encompasses 426,000 acres, 382,000 of which will remain as commercial timberlands where residential development will be prohibited. The plan also includes 3,755 acres for residential development, 5,100 acres for commercial development, and 10,890 acres of conservation easements. It is the largest proposal LURC has seen.3††††††††

††††††††††† The most important aspect of the Plum Creek proposal is that it is a Lake Concept Plan, a long-term, landowner initiated planning alternative that is encouraged by LURC.2Lake Concept Plans must balance public and private interests and be as resource-protective as the LURC districts for which the plan is proposed. A Concept Plan is subject to public review and, if requested, public hearings. Upon approval by LURC it becomes part of the Commissionís regulatory framework and the plan continues to apply to the extent specified in deeds or other legal contracts. 2, 3

In this paper I examine the use of comprehensive planning in Maine and discuss what the implications of this might be for the North Woods. I begin with an introduction to comprehensive planning and then describe the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) and its role in the determining the future of the North Woods. I then analyze the Rangeley Plan, the only comprehensive plan completed for a subregion of the LURC jurisdiction, and conclude with an analysis of the Plum Creek resource plan for the Moosehead Lake Region.

 

Context

Comprehensive Planning

††††††††††† In 1961, Hawaii became the first state to pass growth management legislation, giving a State Land Use Commission the power to determine the location and type of development throughout the state. While functionally different from subsequent management laws adopted by three other ďpioneerĒ states it reflects the same goals of protecting natural resources and the environment and preventing indiscriminant growth. Since then, as environmental concern and development pressures have increased across the nation, ten other states have adopted growth management programs and in 2000, 32 governors referenced smart growth in their state of the State speeches.4, 5

The most recent trend in growth management policies is state level comprehensive planning.5†† Comprehensive planning is a growth management tool that allows governments to balance competing land use interests and direct development into appropriate areas. It differs from traditional zoning practices in that it doesnít necessarily segregate uses and also addresses a variety of issues relating to growth including land use, transportation, population, open spaces, resource protection, agricultural lands, and places of cultural or historical importance.5, 6

††††††††††† Through the 1950ís and early 1960ís Maineís economy and population were fairly stable; this began to change in the late 1960ís as more people left urban areas in favor of Maineís rural way of life and unique natural character. This growth reached a sort of critical point in the 1980ís when the state population grew by 9.8 percent while the national population declined. Many local governments found themselves unable to appropriately manage and plan for development and residents called for a stronger State role.7†††

In response, the Maine legislature passed the Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Regulation Act in May 1988, which mandates that every municipality in the state develop a comprehensive plan and land use management programs.8(title 30-A chapter 187 section 4312)Plans are intended to address regional as well as local needs and are required to include a natural resource inventory, implementation methods, current and anticipated population and employment information, and to define the general policies and goals.7(title 30-A chapter 187 section 4312)The Act also established ten state goals to be incorporated into municipal plans to provide an overall direction and ensure consistency. (title 30-A chapter 187 section 4312)All plans must be reviewed at the state level by the Office of Comprehensive Planning under the Department of Economic and Community Development and must be officially approved to be in compliance with the Act.7, 8(title 30-A chapter 187 section 4312)Both technical assistance and state grant funding are available to help local governments meet the planning requirements, however, the Act makes no provisions for plan implementation.8

The Land Use Regulation Commission

††††††††††† High growth rates during the 1960ís not only challenged local governments, but also threatened Maineís undeveloped regions. Over half the state of Maine was without a government body to establish or enforce development and land use controls. To protect these areas from inappropriate development the state legislature approved a statute that created the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) in 1971.2(title 12 section683)LURC is responsible for developing and administering planning and zoning measures in the Unorganized Territories, a 10.4 million acre jurisdiction (Figure 31). The Commission is comprised of seven members that are appointed by the governor and approved by the legislature. Two members must reside within the jurisdiction and, to ensure that all interests are represented, one member must have expertise in conservation, one in fish and wildlife, one in forestry, and one in commerce and industry.2

lurc_jurisdiction_12_5

Figure 31. The jurisdiction of the Land Use Regulation Commission. It totals 10.4 million acres, over half of Maine's land area

 

LURC adopted the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), which details the Commissionís missions, goals, and policies, in 1976 and the most recent revision to the plan was completed in 1997. As defined in the CLUP, LURCís mission is to use planning and zoning to protect public welfare and safety, to maintain and provide for multiple land uses, ensure orderly and appropriate development, and preserve natural resources. To do this, three general zoning districts that determine allowable uses were created. Management zones are commercial forestry and agriculture lands where future residential and recreational development is unforeseen; these account for 80 percent of the land within LURC jurisdiction. Protection zones include wetlands, wildlife habitat, aquifers, hiking trails, remote lakes and ponds, and other areas where land use could have a significant impact on the natural and cultural resources. Eighteen percent of LURC land is within this zoning district. The smallest district within the jurisdiction is Development, which accounts for only two percent of LURC lands. Development zones are areas with existing patterns of high industrial, commercial, residential, and recreational use. Areas considered to be most appropriate development are close to population centers, accessible by major roads, able to provide the necessary infrastructure, have a demonstrate demand for growth, and where development, as defined above, will not seriously detract from the natural resource value of the region.2†† The small size of the Development zoning district compared to that of the Management district reveals an institutionalized belief in the timber industry and its position as the largest landowner in the state.

In accordance with LURCís designation of areas that are most appropriate for development, the CLUP identifies four high-priority regions within the jurisdiction where the need to balance growth and natural resource protection is particularly important. The Rangeley Lakes, Carrabassett Valley, Millinocket-Baxter State Park, and Moosehead Lake regions experienced some of the highest growth rates within the jurisdiction and all have very high natural resource value. For these reasons, LURC determined that regional prospective zoning plans should be completed for each.2

There is little in the planning literature regarding prospective zoning but LURC distinguishes it from traditional comprehensive zoning practices by emphasizing its locality-specific nature. It involves creating new zones particular to a region to ensure that development is located where it will not detract from the natural character and resource value.2Of the four regions identified for prospective zoning in the CLUP, Rangeley is the only area for which a plan has been completed.

 

Methods

I began my research by contacting the Rangeley and Greenville Town Offices and the LURC Central Office in Augusta. I received over 30,000 building permit data from LURC, which was classified by Geocodes rather than by the names of the townships in which the development had occurred. I used GIS to extract the permits that had been approved in the townships and plantations covered by the Rangeley Plan and those adjacent to and subsumed by the Plum Creek plan (Figure 32). I then coded each by the type of development, either permanent or seasonal residence, and analyzed ten years of residential development in the two regions.

To supplement my analysis I researched the history and current application of land use planning in the United States and reviewed literature regarding plan implementation and evaluation. While this was useful in informing my thoughts, the most valuable references were LURCís Comprehensive Land Use Plan, the Rangeley Plan, and the Plum Creek Resource Plan.

maine_interestareas_12_4_v2

Figure 32. The Rangeley Plan area and the Plum Creek plan area and adjacent townships

Discussion

The Rangeley Plan††††††††

The Rangeley Plan is the only regional comprehensive plan that has been completed for an area within LURCís jurisdiction. The Rangeley region was given highest priority for prospective zoning because it is the most rapidly growing area in the jurisdiction, followed by the Moosehead Lake region.2The type of development also raised concern as the trend shifted towards permanent homes and camps rather than seasonal dwellings.

The planning process began in 1995 with a natural resource inventory, which was then assessed by LURC staff in 1996. From 1997-1999 the Commission held over 30 public meetings and conducted public opinion surveys to ensure that the communityís vision for the region was appropriately reflected in the plan. In 2000 a final public hearing was held at which the plan was approved and the Rangeley Plan came into effect on January 1, 2001.9

The plan area includes five plantations and ten outlying townships (Figure 33). The goal of the plan is to direct development to minimize sprawl and maintain the natural character of the region and it was designed to accommodate 20 years of anticipated growth. The town of Rangeley is to continue to serve as the economic center for the region with most new development located in the adjacent plantations of Sandy River, Rangeley, and Dallas. Limited development is to be permitted in the outlying townships and plantations. This is intended to allow the region to continue to be a year-round, recreational tourist destination by maintaining the diverse lake experiences and working forest which are integral parts of the regionís character and highly valued by the community.

To accomplish these goals LURC created six new zones that are essentially combinations of existing LURC zones tailored specifically to the Rangeley Lakes region. Five of the new zones are Development subdistricts and one is a Protection zone that applies to semi-remote lakes in the region. See Appendix A for a more complete description of these zones. The creation of these new zones eased the permitting process within the development zones, relative to that for existing LURC zones, and made it more difficult to be granted zoning variances. Because of the more stringent rezoning policies, the plan identified three specific properties that may require special consideration in the future including land adjacent to Saddleback Ski Area.

lurc_rangeleytown_12_3

Figure 33. The Rangeley Plan area. It includes three adjacent plantations of Dallas, Sandy River, and Rangeley and seven outlying townships and plantations

 

Analysis of the Rangeley Plan

††††††††††† Assessing the effectiveness of land use plans is very difficult because there are many factors unrelated to the plan that may influence growth and development patterns. Also, many plans have very vague goals, making it even more challenging to establish causal relationships.10One area in which the Rangeley Plan has obvious advantages over is that many of its goals can be quantitatively assessed.

††††††††††† During the planning process area residents said that they would like to see development rates remain fairly consistent with historic rates; also this development is to primarily occur within Sandy River, Dallas, and Rangeley Plantations. In the last 20 years, approximately 650 residential dwellings were built in the plan area, an average of 32.5 new dwellings per year.9 In the four years since the plan has been implemented an average of 34.75 new dwellings have been constructed each year, showing that growth has remained fairly consistent with the historic rates, meeting the plan goals. If this can be maintained for the 20-year plan period a total number of 695 new dwellings would be constructed during that time. Building permit data also shows that the majority of this development has occurred within the adjacent plantations (Figure 34). The data also shows a significant increase in the construction of new permanent homes while the number of new seasonal dwellings has declined (Figure 35). This trend cannot be attributed to the plan but highlights the need for continued monitoring and evaluation.

 

Figure 34. The number of new dwellings per year in both the adjacent plantations and the outlying townships

 

Figure 35. New seasonal and permanent dwellings in the plan area. The Rangeley Plan was implemented in 2001

 

While this is not sufficient evidence to classify the Rangeley Plan as a success, it does indicate that the plan has effectively helped direct development into appropriate areas. Further assessment of the plan could also include non-residential development and a discussion of the population and economic trends in the region. If the information about the specific location of each approved permit is available, it would also be helpful to use GIS to conduct a spatial analysis of development patterns.

The Moosehead Lake Region

††††††††††† Moosehead lake is the largest lake in Maine and is also the headwaters to the Kennebec River, one of the stateís major waterways. The region has long been valued for itís natural resources and has historically been known as a great and impressive wilderness.11While this description may not be entirely accurate as over 30,000 miles of logging roads now crisscross through the woods, the area is certainly more wild than most places in the nation. Because of this cultural and natural resource significance the Moosehead Lake region was identified by LURC as one of the four regions for prospective zoning. The region is second to the Rangeley Lakes region in terms of growth rates within the LURC jurisdiction and on the priority list for prospective zoning.2However, a regional plan has not been completed for the area.

††††††††††† In the absence of any LURC-initiated planning in the region, Plum Creek, a Seattle-based timber management company, has proposed a 426,000-acre resource plan for a portion of their land holdings around Moosehead Lake (Figure 36). The plan includes a significant amount of development, primarily residential and recreational, as well as conservation measures including easements and the maintenance of a working forest. Plum Creekís plan is not a typical request for rezoning, but is a Lake Concept Plan, a lake management tool that provides an alternative to traditional LURC regulations. 2 3

 

plum_creek_greenville_12_5

Figure 36. The Plum Creek planarea and the adjacent townships

 

Lake Concept Plans††††††

††††††††††† Lake concept plans are one of four ways in which LURC addresses major development proposals. They are encouraged as a means of achieving a publicly beneficial balance between conservation and development. Concept plans are voluntary and landowner-initiated but, once approved by the Commission, are binding and incorporated into LURCís regulatory framework by changing the existing zoning.2The Plum Creek plan is the fifth lake concept plan that has been proposed; the other four were approved.12

††††††††††† A plan must identify the areas that are intended to be developed and those to be protected, the means of achieving this conservation, and the life span of the plan. Ten years is the minimum allowed life span and anything under 20 years is discouraged. Once a plan has been approved its life span can be extended if LURC and the landowner agree on the new time period. A plan should also specify the conditions under which it will be terminated. If this happens, LURC will rezone the land in accordance with its comprehensive plan but components of the plan including conservation easements and subdivision restrictions will remain in place to the extent specified in contracts and deeds. LURC encourages the landowner to solicit public opinion during the planning process and also establishes a public review and comment period; if the Commission believes it is appropriate, or at the request of more than five people, LURC will hold a public hearing about the proposal.2

††††††††††† The Commission primarily uses four criteria to evaluate proposed concept plans: that they are consistent with the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, balance conservation and development, are as environmentally protective as the LURC subdistricts that it replaces, and are clearly and significantly publicly beneficial.2, 12All conservation measures are expected to apply in perpetuity, particularly for the highest value natural resources.12In terms of the Plum Creek concept plan, this means that the conservation measures included in their proposal are permanent.

Conclusion

††††††††††† Approximately 50 percent of Maine is the responsibility of the seven member Land Use Regulation Commission. Within LURCís Comprehensive Land Use Plan, the Commission identified four places with special planning needs and for which prospective zoning was to be done. Only one of those four plans has been completed. In my analysis of the Rangeley Plan I determined that the plan has effectively directed development into the desired and most appropriate areas. The plan has also helped to maintain the historic growth rate in the region.

One of the major drawbacks to comprehensive planning is that it is a very time-consuming process. The planning process for the Rangeley region began in 1995 but the plan did not come into effect until January 2001. Because planning such as this is so resource intensive LURC also allows landowners to create concept plans such as the one proposed by Plum Creek. This is an entirely reactive approach to land use planning as LURC has limited involvement in the process, its main function is to either approve or reject the plan. Two of the key factors that LURC considers in assessing these proposals is that the plan balances conservation and development and is significantly publicly beneficial. While both of these are extremely important features of any land use plan, the process leaves it to a private entity to determine what is an appropriate, publicly beneficial balance. Comprehensive planning such as that completed for the Rangeley region includes significant amount of public participation, evidenced by the over 30 meetings held by LURC, ensuring that the final plan is not only publicly beneficial but fully reflects the community vision for the region in the future.

Concept plans are useful in that they provide an opportunity for long-term regional planning without the associated costs to the public and do not require considerable human resources from LURC. Also, the conservation requirements in the plan ensure long-term and perpetual resource protection, which is not included in comprehensive planning. The Rangeley Plan discusses existing and proposed conservation in the region but it does not explicitly include protection measures.

The Plum Creek concept plan will have lasting effects on both the character of the Moosehead Lake region and the people that live there and, while the plan strives to be publicly beneficial, it is still a plan created by a private interest. LURC admittedly does not have the capacity to carry out prospective zoning plans for all of the appropriate areas within its jurisdiction, nor is this the ideal course of action considering the length of time that would be needed for this to be completed.2†† However, allowing a private landowner to complete these plans is not necessarily appropriate either. Maine residents and government officials may need to reconsider the role of the Unorganized Territories, if the future of these areas will strongly influence the future of the entire state, perhaps more human and capital resources could be devoted to their management.

 

References

1.†††††††† Kelly, E.D. Managing Community Growth, Edn. Second. (Praeger Publishers, Westport; 2004).

2.†††††††† Eliot, C., Johnston, W., Burns, S. & Todd, F. (ed. Department of Conservation) (Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, 1997).

3.†††††††† Plum Creek Plan Summary, Vol. 1. (2005).

4.†††††††† Anthony, J. Do State Growth Management Regulations Reduce Sprawl. Urban Affairs Review 39, 376-397 (2004).

5.†††††††† Zinn, J.A. State Policies to Manage Growth and Protect Open Spaces. (Novinka Books, New York; 2004).

6.†††††††† Silberstein, J. & Maser, C. Land-Use Planning for Sustainable Development. (Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton; 2000).

7.†††††††† Gale, D.E. Resource challenges to municipal growth management. Maine Policy Review 1, 83-101 (1991).

8.†††††††† Gale, D.E. Eight State-Sponsored Growth Management Programs. Journal of the American Planning Association 58, 425-440 (1992).

9.†††††††† Land Use Regulation Commission. (ed. Department of Conservation)2000).

10.†††††† Seasons, M. Monitoring and Evaluation in Municipal Planning: Considering the Realities. Journal of the American Planning Association 69, 430-440 (2003).

11.†††††† Thoreau, H.D. Ktaadn. (Princeton University Press, Princeton).

12.†††††† Land Use Regulation Commission in Commission MeetingBethel, Maine; 2005).

 

 

 

 

State of Maine's Environment, Colby College, Environmental Studies Program
Content by Students in ES493: Environmental Policy Practicum
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