The adjacency principle is a policy. It serves as an initial screen to guide where the Land Use Planning Commission will consider requests for residential subdivision and commercial development zones in the unorganized and deorganized areas of the state. (About 10 million acres) Over the last several years, the Commission has been considering changes to the current policy. This project has generated a lot of press and even some petitions. Unfortunately, some of these materials were misleading. This is not a new phenomenon to you veteran planners!
Over the summer, Commission staff have been meeting with communities and stakeholders to better explain the current and proposed policies and to get additional information from community members to inform changes to the proposed policy. The Commission does the planning, zoning, permitting and code enforcement for places that don’t have local government or don’t administer their own land use planning. Just like neighboring towns have an effect on each other, what happens in the Unorganized Territories can affect nearby municipalities. The regulatory framework in the UT can be pretty different than in a municipality, (the Commission operates under Title 12, not Title 30-A) so it can take a little time to understand the framework, but informed feedback from stakeholders is essential in improving the proposal. A new version of the proposal, revised in response to comments, will be available over the next two months, and then the public comment period will continue into February.
The current proposal for refining the adjacency principle would replace the one mile rule of thumb for all of the Commission’s service area. The proposed approach would allow most residential and commercial uses in areas that are generally no more than seven miles from a rural hub and one mile from a public road. Some subdivisions could be located up to five miles from a public road if they are in a township that touches a rural hub, and a legal right of access and emergency services are available. The proposal also introduces the idea of rezoning for “low density” subdivisions, which have lots in the 12-25 acre range, in certain locations. Some uses such as large commercial facilities and home-based businesses would be regulated differently. Uses that cannot locate in developed areas, such as resource-dependent recreation and resource processing would be regulated based on the anticipated impacts from the activity, rather than a traditional zoning system.
The Commission encourages planners or other officials in communities that are near unorganized territories to get in touch with LUPC staff to discuss how the proposal works, and how it may affect municipalities. The website is also a good source for information. In the meantime, below is some material that the Commission provided in September in response to questions from community members in the Millinocket area. It is very high-level and summarized, but it is a good way to start to dig in to the topic.
Answers to Millinocket Stakeholder Questions:
Why make changes?
- Planning ahead will lead to better results for the community. Being deliberate about future locations for subdivisions, and the services they require, is preferable to tying future subdivisions to the erratic distribution of existing homes throughout the UT and then allowing leapfrogging expansion indefinitely.
- A recreational trail center is not the same thing as a Circle K, and our current zoning rules do not always recognize that. Compatible commercial activity can help the regional economy without turning the Maine Woods into a strip mall or ruining important remote recreation areas.
- Changing this policy improves the high-level screening for where someone may apply to go through the rezoning process, which is exactly the scale at which overall planning is useful. Adjacency is not a blanket approval for development.
- The problem will not get better with time, it will slowly get worse. This problem has been on the list of important policy fixes for decades. We should take this opportunity to deal with it rather than defer it again.
- The economy is changing, and planning ahead will help keep a woods economy viable without ruining the resource we all value. It’s time to replace outdated policies so the current economic transition has the best chance of succeeding.
- The current system is reactive and entirely based on the historic development pattern. The proposal would replace that with a system that proactively shapes the pattern in a way that’s more cost effective for service providers, is more predictable for people who want to start rural businesses, and has enough flexibility to accommodate the current period of economic transition.
Is the LUPC willing to work with communities on self-guided development?
- Yes. It may take jointly seeking grant funding, but the Commission is willing to work with regional coalitions to do more specific planning. In the meantime, we need a system that works better for all areas, which can then be adjusted or replaced for regions that proactively plan.
Can the 10 miles “from rural hubs” leapfrog as we see with the current one-mile adjacency system?
What are the benefits to rural communities worried about losing tax base and sprawl?
- No. The primary and secondary locations don’t continue to expand outward over time like the current adjacency system does. They stay where they are unless a government entity adopts a new public road close to a rural hub.
- Development can locate outside town boundaries in the UT today. For example, there are many areas outside Millinocket that are eligible for adjacency because there is nearby existing development. It would be better to be deliberate about where to allow rezoning for development and what type of development to allow rather than encourage leapfrogging out from wherever development located in the past. This would allow towns to better influence growth patterns and implement strategies to benefit from development in surrounding areas.
- Some communities have found that having a “critical mass” of people in the immediate area can help provide support for services such as hospitals and schools, provided the service agreements between the community and the UT are sufficient to cover costs.
These answers do not argue for a particular configuration of primary and secondary locations. The shape of the primary and secondary locations in the proposed rule is likely to change based on comments we receive. We are looking for feedback from towns about what would be a better pattern of development in the outlying areas than could happen under the current system. The Commission’s planning charge from the legislature considers regional economic vitality, including needs in the UT and the effects of our planning on towns. We are eager to hear from local stakeholders about how best to accomplish that mission.
Examples of Current Commercial Use Issues:
The bullets below are some examples of non-residential activities that are handled poorly or not at all in the Commission’s current rules. The proposal would allow these uses in some places, while avoiding negative consequences by controlling the location of these activities and potential impacts.
- Agriculture or recreation-based commercial uses that are more than a mile from existing commercial development, such as:
- Trail centers
- Commercial greenhouses or other ag-related retail Agritourism operations
- On-site gear rental (e.g., kayak rentals from a trailer at the boat launch)
- Sale of pre-prepared food and fuel on or near motorized trails
- Paintball courses or other amusements
- Town office building in a town or plantation with only residential uses
- Food truck in an island community or at a busy, developed boat launch
- Mobile fiber processing equipment (e.g. pellet mill on a truck)
- Small, permanent fiber processing facilities
- Regional public facilities that can be difficult to site, such as airports or landfills
- Bottled water wellheads
- Commercial firing ranges (it can be desirable to have noisy uses separated from existing uses rather than require they be nearby)
- Growth of successful home-based businesses beyond current limits, in places where impacts can be buffered
--Samantha Horn, Planning Manager, Land Use Planning Commission