LURC views all projects in same ‘big picture’

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The Land Use Regulation Commission is a small agency with a huge mission.

I read with interest Karl Trautman’s recent column in the Sun Journal regarding Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission. (Dec. 24) I share Trautman’s thoughts and his sentiments on LURC’s very important mission, but I do not share his doubts about LURC’s capability. For more than three decades, LURC has been very effective in addressing planning and zoning issues. Our record stands for itself and shows that LURC is hardly in the lurch.

Trautman says that land use comprehensive planning ought to be directed to the areas of “wilderness” – the “unorganized territories” – a land mass of 10.6 million acres. LURC has had a comprehensive land use plan in place since the agency’s creation by the Legislature in the early 1970s. Throughout its 35 years of comprehensive planning for half the state of Maine, LURC has updated its land use comprehensive plan multiple times to keep up with the ever changing land use issues in the unorganized territories. The 1997 Comprehensive Land Use Plan is being revised today, and the agency’s seven-member citizen board of commissioners will adopt a new plan in 2007.

Certainly this effort to adopt a 2007 plan has given us no shortage of public policy discussions identifying “big picture” planning for the next decade. LURC will continue to promote sound and orderly growth while protecting and conserving the state’s precious and most-valued natural resources in the unorganized territories.

The notion that LURC is unable to focus on “big picture” planning because high profile and controversial projects distract LURC from pausing to see the “big picture” does not pass the straight face test. LURC’s 1997 CLUP is laden with broad land use planning goals and policies, which guide the commission and staff during review and deliberation. LURC processes an average of 1,200 applications each year, with each and every application decided based on a comprehensive plan, and a set of standards and zoning. A proposal for a small camp addition is reviewed with the same scrutiny as a resort expansion at Saddleback, or a concept plan for the Moosehead Lake area. LURC has been attending to land use activities in the unorganized territories, big picture or little picture, for the past three-and-a-half decades.

Trautman asks if Plum Creek is perhaps “handling” LURC. As someone who has worked with Plum Creek for the past several years, I am mystified by his statement, and cannot comprehend what he means. LURC is staffed by exemplary land use planners and professional contractors who have been reviewing the Plum Creek proposal from the start. LURC is prepared to “handle” Plum Creek’s or any other applicant’s land use proposal.

Yes, LURC is a small agency with a huge mission. Yes, we have unprecedented projects before us and more coming our way. For more than 30 years, LURC has done its job with its well-established planning and zoning tools and resources. LURC is ready, prepared and will continue to carry out its mission as it has for over 35 years.

LURC is a national land use planning model that promotes productive, compatible, sustainable land use, where residents and visitors of the state of Maine can enjoy an outstanding quality of life, and where natural and cultural resources are respected and protected. LURC is far from staggering.

Catherine M. Carroll is director of the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission. She lives in Readfield.

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