PARIS – Citing what they claim are restrictive town rules on use of land, a group of landowners has posted their land against recreational use.

Resident Rick Jackson said 15 landowners, mostly in Paris but in surrounding communities as well, have posted “No Trespassing” signs that prohibit the use of thousands of acres of land for hunting, fishing and other activities.

Jackson said the move aims to raise awareness so people “use their property in a responsible manner.”

Jackson said the town’s subdivision ordinance and comprehensive plan create a “tremendous burden” on landowners, and inhibit growth in the town when compared with ordinances in neighboring communities.

The comprehensive plan, designed as a guide for municipal development over a 10-year period, passed in a 540-420 referendum vote in June 2007. The subdivision ordinance, which guides the splitting of land into two or more parcels, passed in a narrower 487-468 vote.

Jackson said concerns with the ordinance include street frontage and engineering requirements, while concerns with the plan include designated areas and what that means for taxes and land use.

“The current plan in place is extremely restrictive and going to give our neighbors an advantage for growth,” Jackson said.

He said the group is seeking signatures for a citizens’ initiative petition to amend the subdivision rules to be similar to the town of Oxford’s rules. No petition is currently in the works for the comprehensive plan.

Town Manager Sharon Jackson said the group would need to gather signatures equal to 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. She said the petition could then go before the selectmen, who could make a decision on the issue or put it to a referendum vote, and any likely changes to the ordinance would go through the Planning Board.

Earlier this year, the Board of Selectmen created a 10-member ad hoc committee to review the subdivision ordinance after resident Ron Fitts approached the board with a set of recommended changes to the ordinance. After three meetings, the committee was disbanded with no changes enacted after resident Robert Moorehead filed suit against two selectmen, charging them with conflict of interest in their decision to establish the committee and other votes.

Jackson said that the landowners have been discussing the issue for the past year, and met with Norway-Paris Fish and Game and local ATV and snowmobile clubs in July. The posting went into effect last month.

Mark Sterns, treasurer for the Extra Mile ATV Club and former trail master and vice-president of the South Paris Snowhoppers snowmobile club, said the ATV trails are not affected by the postings, but two snowmobile routes to Oxford and Norway have been cut off.

Sterns said the membership was open to reviewing the ordinance, but that rerouting trails around the property may be difficult. Only 10 percent of the registered snowmobiles in town have owners who are members in the club.

“It’s unfortunate that we can’t use the trail, but it’s their trail,” Sterns said.

Jackson said some hunters have pursued game onto posted property, and landowners will begin to call law enforcement to enforce the postings.

“It’s something none of us, I don’t think, are comfortable with,” Jackson said, “but we need to effect change.”

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Web site encourages landowners to allow the use of their land, but also encourages people using the land to seek permission from landowners. Landowners may post signs or silver horizontal paint markings to prohibit the use of their land for some or all recreational activities, and people who enter the land without permission may be charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass.

“I know many of the landowners involved in this want to open up their land as soon as possible to members of organized clubs,” Jackson said.

Jackson said the landowners hope the decision will have the duel effect of increasing membership in local recreational clubs. He said he expects the land will be reopened if club members and those who use the land participate in the process.

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