Maine can do better than Suncadia

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What do forests in Maine and Washington State have in common? They are both at risk from sprawling development taking place in America’s woodlands.

Forests that have long provided wildlife habitat, timber and fiber, public access for all kinds of recreation, and open natural areas are threatened. The corporations that own these lands are changing to Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMOs) to take advantage of tax breaks. The financial analysts, who now determine the future of these lands, come from corporate offices miles away. They have decided it is in the best interest of shareholders to sell off some of the places that Americans cherish most.

In Maine, Plum Creek is the culprit, with a 421,000-acre rezoning application to allow the largest development ever proposed in Maine – 975 lots and two large resorts – scattered in 58 subdivisions around seven lakes and ponds across the Moosehead Lake region. While Plum Creek has recently announced that it will be going back to the drawing board (for a second time), it remains to be seen whether the company proposes meaningful changes that will protect the unique qualities of the area.

Near Roslyn, Wash., 6,300 acres of former Plum Creek land is being transformed into

the Suncadia Resort. This new resort offers some clues about what Plum Creek’s proposal could mean for Maine’s Moosehead Lake region. While visiting my brother in Washington last November, I stopped by Suncadia to see what might be in the offing for Greenville and Rockwood.

At Suncadia, former Plum Creek timberland is being converted into a huge resort on a ridge overlooking the beautiful Cle Elum Valley and the town of Roslyn, population 1,000. In Maine, in addition to 975 house lots, Plum Creek seeks permission to develop two resorts, an exclusive one on the pristine Lily Bay peninsula (across from Lily Bay State Park), and a 2,600-acre resort on Moose Mountain. These lands are currently zoned for forestry and backwoods recreation.

The town of Roslyn will be dwarfed by the Suncadia Resort once its three golf courses and 3,200 pricey vacation homes and gated “private community” are completed. As its Web site boasts, at Suncadia, “The private community of Tumble Creek” offers “privileged access.”

The Seattle Times reports that to join the Tumble Creek community, “The acre lots go for $300,000 to $1 million, and golf memberships for $60,000.” Greenville, Rockwood and their residents would be dwarfed as well, if Plum Creek’s 58 subdivisions and two large resorts were allowed.

Suncadia’s home prices start at over a million dollars. In Maine, Plum Creek has acknowledged that currently many local residents, including the company’s own employees, cannot afford to buy homes in the area. As a Bangor Daily News story reported, “‘We have people who work for us that have had problems finding affordable houses,’ said Luke Muzzy, Plum Creek’s senior land asset manager in Maine. ‘This is indicative of the need of the area.'”

However, Plum Creek’s development is clearly aimed at an upscale market, and will price more Mainers out of the housing market or drive them into subsidized housing.

During my visit to Suncadia, I saw construction company signs from Seattle, a two-hour drive from the resort. It was those firms, not local firms, that were building the million dollar plus homes. I’ve heard from Moosehead area residents the building jobs there often go to New Hampshire and Canadian construction workers and others from away, instead of local residents.

The Suncadia resort will include a “village filled with cafes, galleries, boutiques and a world-class lodge,” says its Web site. It sounds like there’ll be little reason to stop in Roslyn and visit locally owned and operated businesses.

Plum Creek has provided almost no details about the resorts it proposes. They could well have a Suncadia-like village in mind for Big Moose and Lily Bay. The Big Moose development could include unlimited houses and condominiums; both could have restaurants, beauty parlors, and stores of all types. Such development would drain business from local communities and provide stiff competition for locally-owned Greenville enterprises.

Working with people in the Moosehead Lake region and a Maine-based land use planning firm, Terrence J. DeWan and Associates, the Natural Resources Council has created an alternative vision for the region that provides substantial development opportunity and landscape-scale conservation. We believe that it is important to protect the special character of the area while offering its residents a vibrant economic future.

Maine people – and the seven members of our Land Use Regulation Commission – must answer the question: Is sprawling development and an exclusive, Suncadia-style resort what is best for the future of the Moosehead Lake region?

The answer is, “Maine can do better.”

Brownie Carson, of Brunswick, is executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Near Roslyn, Wash., 6,300 acres of former Plum Creek land is being transformed into the Suncadia Resort. This new resort offers some clues about what Plum Creek’s proposal could mean for Maine’s Moosehead Lake region.

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