Plum Creek’s zoning petition faces challenge

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PORTLAND (AP) – Two conservation groups opposed to a massive development in the Moosehead Lake region filed a motion Friday with the Land Use Regulation Commission seeking to have the developer’s zoning petition dismissed.

LURC, which serves as the planning and zoning agency for the state’s unorganized areas, lacks the legal authority to approve Plum Creek Timber Co.’s “concept plan” for its land in the Moosehead Lake area, according to Restore: The North Woods and the Forest Ecology Network.

The groups said LURC can’t approve a plan that will prevent anybody – LURC, the Legislature or the citizen-initiative process – from changing it over the 30-year life of the plan.

The motion is the latest turn in Plum Creek’s proposal to create Maine’s largest subdivision. For the development, the company is seeking a zoning change on 420,000 acres in the Moosehead region as part of a 30-year plan to develop nearly 1,000 house lots and two resorts.

Jym St. Pierre, director of Restore: The North Woods, said his group and the Forest Ecology Network asked two attorneys to analyze LURC’s legal power in approving the plan.

Their conclusion, he said, was that LURC doesn’t have the authority to grant a landowner a 30-year exemption from zoning changes. Under the current proposal, the zoning of the land couldn’t be changed for three decades without approval from both LURC and Plum Creek, he said.

“Unless and until LURC has clear legislative authorization to give away its ability to make zoning changes that may be necessary over the next three decades, the Land Use Regulation Commission should immediately stop processing Plum Creek’s rezoning petition,” St. Pierre said.

Luke Muzzy of Plum Creek said Friday that the company is simply following a process established by LURC. There have been several other concept plans in the 20- to 30-year range that have been approved LURC since the 1980s, he said.

“We’re not making up a new process. We’re following a process that other land owners have been using for the past 20 years,” he said.

Plum Creek’s plan has come under attack from the start from conservation groups and others who say it is inappropriate for an area that serves as the gateway to Maine’s North Woods.

Plum Creek says the plan permanently protects some 400,000 acres from development, while preserving the character of the area and guaranteeing public access. Supporters say the development would help the region’s sagging economy and draw more tourists.

Jonathan Carter, head of the Forest Ecology Network, said Plum Creek is seeking “contract zoning” on its land.

“LURC doesn’t have the authority to grant contract zoning,” Carter said. “Only the Legislature has that authority.”

AP-ES-07-27-07 1540EDT

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