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Changes to Maine Zoning Law Could Affect Jobs, Forests

Maine's North Woods, the largest undeveloped forest in the Eastern U.S., could be affected by proposed changes to a state zoning law. (ThomasRobertKelley/Wikimedia Commons)
Maine's North Woods, the largest undeveloped forest in the Eastern U.S., could be affected by proposed changes to a state zoning law. (ThomasRobertKelley/Wikimedia Commons)
January 2, 2019

BREWER, Maine — Proposed zoning law changes could dramatically impact rural areas of Maine, including the state's vast forestland. A public hearing on Jan. 8 in Brewer will explore whether to change the "adjacency principle," which limits where new zones for subdivisions or businesses can be located.

Right now, most commercial building must occur within 1 mile by road of existing, compatible development. But the Land Use Planning Commission wants to update the 1-mile rule. It suggests new residential or commercial sites could be built within seven miles of rural hubs, and 1 mile from a public road.

Nick Livesay, executive director of the commission, said the current 1-mile rule encourages sprawl instead of strategic development.

"The commission's taking a positive step forward to prevent sprawl that the current system allows,” Livesay said; “and also to prevent existing scattered development nodes from serving as a springboard for further development into even more rural and remote places."

He explained the proposal limits most development to areas that are already close to rural communities, such as for outdoor recreation or businesses that depend on natural resources. But opponents, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, say the change would encourage development in Maine forests, which make up 89 percent of the state.

Livesay said the proposal could mean more wood processing on some forested land, but the plan isn't intended to allow opening more paper mills.

"No one's envisioning new pulp and paper mills being sited off in the woods,” he said. “What the commission's rule change is intended to do is allow for smaller scale, in-woods processing, so that material can be moved out in a more efficient manner to where it might be further used or processed."

The public hearing is scheduled for noon on Tues., Jan. 8 at Jeff's Catering in Brewer, with a snow date of Jan. 10 at the same location. The deadline for written public comments is Jan. 22.

The commission is expected to make its decision by March or April.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME