TURNER – A proposed new comprehensive plan highlights some of the changes expected to take place in this rural community over the next 10 years.

The plan also takes steps to help agricultural enterprises remain financially viable and makes recommendations to protect the town’s 13 ponds and its rivers and streams.

About 25 people gathered at a public forum to hear a presentation on the draft plan, which still must go to the state for approval and then return for a vote of the community at town meeting in 2004, said John Maloney of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments. The new plan has been in development for about two years.

The comprehensive plan was developed based on surveys in which residents gave their opinions on how development should happen, where it should happen, what needs to be protected and what they are willing to pay for.

Using that information, the plan was formulated. After approval by the state and residents, it will be used as a basis for creating zoning ordinances, development allowances and restrictions and the formulation of local laws governing everything from road building to junkyard permits.

The surveys showed, board members said, that residents wish to retain the rural character of the town, support agricultural endeavors and the open space they provide, but they are not willing to pay to make this happen.

“Everyone wants the farms to stay,” committee Chairman Mike Gotto said. “But they are not willing to pay for it. So this committee has framed the comprehensive plan in such a way as to make it as easy as possible for farmers to stay in business.”

Some of those strategies include allowing farmers to diversify the use of their land by opening related businesses such as a tractor sales outlet, an ice cream shop at a dairy farm or a produce stand at a truck garden.

Several of these kinds of businesses already exist on local farms but were developed under fairly strict guidelines. The new plan would loosen those guidelines to broaden the possibilities.

“Everyone says they want to keep the views all over town,” committee member Ralph Caldwell said. “Well, views are a free ride from agriculture. You will only have them as long as we farm. When we stop, trees will grow up and there won’t be any views.”

The committee also has looked at transfer of development rights and tax rates on open land concerning agriculture. The new plan combines what previously were two rural zones with different allowable uses into one rural zone with fewer restrictions as another way to help farmers.

When residents received an announcement of the meeting with some of the plan’s details, several committee members got calls concerning proposed overpasses at routes 4 and 219 in North Turner and at routes 4 and 117 in Turner Village.

Committee members were quick to point out Thursday night that there are currently 14,000 trips per day on Route 4 in Turner, but 20 or 30 years from now when that number doubles, the idea may not be so far-fetched. But the concept is for “the distant future,” they said.

Commercial and economic development also are addressed in the plan. The commercial zones just north of Turner Village have been expanded to accommodate secondary roads to businesses in an attempt to get local traffic off Route 4. The plan proposes looking at the feasibility of another business park since the one in South Turner “is basically full.”

Townspeople at the April town meeting approved the implementation of a tax increment financing program. The plan also calls for the development of regional economic policies. Based on the plan, the town will consider implementing the use of impact fees for developers in an attempt to keep taxes down. A new mixed use zone is proposed for the area around DeCoster Egg Farms for activities such as warehousing.

Recreational development ideas include off-street parking in areas used by walkers and joggers, sidewalks in Turner Center and a park on Martin Stream behind what used to be House’s Market.

Special protections will be placed around lakes and ponds, wetlands, waterfowl habitat and deer-wintering yards, and phosphorus regulation will be expanded to include individual lots, not just developments, near water bodies. The Nezinscot River, above the Turner Village dam, will have protections placed on it to ensure the continuation of both environmental soundness and recreational activities.

Copies of the proposed plan are available at the town office. It is expected the plan will be returned to the town from the state next fall. At that time, another public forum will be held before the plan goes to a vote at the 2004 town meeting.

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