Bethel plans to examine growth


BETHEL – Responding to a relative explosion of growth during the past five years, the Chamber of Commerce is planning a roundtable discussion with developers and local leaders to talk about preserving the area without dampening development.

“Our place is our most valuable asset and if we mess it up, we’ll become Any Old Place, U.S.A.,” Robin Zinchuk, the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce head, said Tuesday. “You can look at other places that have not done thoughtful planning and have been loved to death. They were wonderful destinations 50 years ago but have lost the basic feeling of the place and/or have become so elite so that local people have not been able to afford to live there.”

She said it was an unprecedented conference in this area, but that these are unprecedented times. “This is a unique time in our history where we’ve experienced this incremental growth. It has provided economic activity for people, we’ve got lots of people working, tradespeople are flat out, but we also feel it is time to step back and evaluate what’s happening.”

The conference is scheduled May 9 at the Bethel Inn Conference Center from noon to 5 p.m.. The first panel will include planning board members from Newry and Bethel, as well as a banker from Norway Savings Bank and a real estate agent. They will provide data outlining the trajectories of growth and some of its side effects.

The second panel will include a representative for developers, the town manager, a business owner, and a representative from a land trust and trails committee.

“We’ll see a wide array of constituencies speaking from their perspectives,” Zinchuk said. “What we want to do is have the conversation be broad enough, and full of accurate information so that the different constituencies represented there can go back into their organizations and use the information that they have listened to and participated in and decide what their own actions will be.”

Invitations have been sent to selectmen and planning boards from the SAD 44 region, developers – both locals and those from away – key organizational leaders, chamber board members, elected officials – both state and federal, and county commissioners. The keynote speaker will be Alan Caron, CEO of GrowSmart Maine.