ALBANY TWN — Owner of Setters Point Inc. and Master Maine Guide Dennis Jellison had his reasons for moving to Albany Township. Tranquility, mostly.

“I’m a master Maine guide. I hunt and fish for a living…That’s why I moved out here. Just to be in a nice quiet area,” said Jellison. 

Although it’s hard for Jellison to imagine development in the rural township, changes proposed by the Land Use Planning Commission could transform that tranquility.

Under the current “adjacency” zoning rule, commercial and development in Unorganized territories can only occur one mile, by road, from existing development.

According to the LUPC’s adjacency proposal summary, this policy has been flagged as needing an update since the 1980’s. The current proposal would open the door for development seven miles “crows fly” from outside the boundary of a designated “rural hub,” (the population center of a unorganized territory),  one mile from public roads in certain townships, and the shoreline around certain lakes.

Mac Davis, a registered Maine Guide and a member of the Maine Wilderness Guides Organization lives in Albany, said the proposed changes could impact his livelyhood. He owns a small canoe guiding business, and said his trips normally take place in the Rangely Lake Area, and the West Branch of the Penobscot River.

“I’m acutely aware of the effects more development in those areas would have in those areas people outside the State come to Maine for,” he said. Davis lives on Songo Pond in Albany, and said while heavy development on lakes and ponds is normal in the Southern and Central regions of the state, Northern land should  stay untouched.

“Lake Winnipesaukee is the last thing in the world you want to see Moosehead Lake becoming,”  Davis said. “The proposed changes would immediately allow the development north of Rockwood on the west shore of Moosehead. That would totally change the experience,” he said.

“When you look at our area, it’s not clear to me what direct effects would be, except that, essentially, all of Albany Township would be open for residential or commercial development without going through the zoning process,” said Davis.

According to Catherine B. Johnson Senior Staff Attorney & Forests and Wildlife Project Director of the National Resource Council, Statewide more than 1.3 million acres could be subdivided, and more than 800,000 acres would be open for commercial development.  She said the National Resource Council is worried about “sprawl,” or development strung out around roads, not near existing developments. 

“It could be open to the dreaded Dollar Stores or any sort of commercial or residential subdivision,” said  Johnson.

According to the LUPC’s website, the the commission “has been working on this policy review since 2016, with stakeholder meetings, focus groups and a public survey. Based on that extensive information gathering, the staff proposal was released in February and March of 2018. A companion proposal for subdivision standards will be released in June.”

Most of the public testimony submitted to the LUPC from December 19, 2018 and January 22., 2019 cites concerns about the potential for development in the northern section of Maine, where most Unorganized Territories are located.

However, there are three areas in Oxford County identified on a LUPC map as zones that could potentially be affected by the change.

They include the South Oxford Unorganized Territory, a 95 square mile area comprised of Albany Township, Mason Township, and Batchelder’s Grant that juts up alongside the White Mountain National Forest; a small area near Sunday River Golf Course and Riley Township, and Milton Township outside of Rumford.

A LUPC map indicating where development in Unorganized Territories could happen in  Oxford County. Orange areas indicate “primary” zones, or rural hubs.

According to a letter submitted On January 10 to the Land Use Planning Commission by Eliza Donoghue, a Senior Policy and Advocacy Specialist for the Maine Audubon Society, “Maine’s unorganized territories are the heart and soul of the Northern Appalachian/Acadian–the largest intact-temperate forest in North America and perhaps the world…the UT boasts such diversity for a number of reasons, including the fact that the UT is largely undeveloped or fragmented.”

“One of things that wildlife needs to thrive the most is large tracts of forests,” Donoghue said in a phone interview on February 28. “When you start having scattered development, it starts to chip away at those large forest parcels. The White Mountain National Forest is a great example,” said Donoghue. 

In a section of the letter, Donoghue wrote that Albany Township is not a good choice for potential development, as it would “encourage additional development near the White Mountain National Forest, even though there seems to be ample room for additional development in neighboring organized towns,” Donoghue wrote.

Though changes to the Unorganized Territories themselves have drawn the most attention, Donoghue said it was important to consider who the changes could impact existing towns nearby; in Albany’s case, Bethel.

Bethel, in my limited experience, is having a quite a resurgence, focusing on their wonderful outdoor recreation economy and tourism. In order to keep that really strong, they need to make sure that development is concentrated in Bethel. The rules, as proposed, have potential to draw development outside of Bethel,” said Donoghue. 

Oxford County administrator Tom Winsor said the proposed changes weren’t yet “on the counties’ radar,” a sentiment echoed by Loretta Powers, the town manager of Bethel.

Not all public testimony submitted was explicitly against the proposed changes; in a letter submitted the Maine Forest Products Council, the organization wrote that “it was disappointing, though not surprising, to hear opponents of the Jan. 10th hearing focus on the unjust fears in an attempt to discourage the commission from modernizing the adjacency rule…we are in favor of changing the adjacency rules to allow more flexibility to develop, particularly on the ‘fringes of the big woods,’ close to services. That would naturally channel development to least remote areas.”

The Council wrote that it believed the proposed changes could revitalize unorganized territories across the state.  According to the Council’s report, student enrollment in Unorganized Territories dropped 22 percent, from 1,033 in 2008-2009 to 805 in 2018-2019.  Rebecca Graham of the Maine Municipal Association testified during a public meeting in Brewer  on January 10, stating that “land use planning in deorganized regions can have an enormous effect on the surrounded organized communities who struggle to provide services like public safety within their existing tax base…development may slo provide expanded opportunity to increase student enrollment and local economic activity.”

For Jellison, who moved to Albany to escape development, the prospect isn’t welcome.

Subdivisions would be a crying shame…I have over 200 acres here, and 3,000 feet on the Crooked River. I could make this place into a gold mine, but I don’t want to chop it all up,” he said.

“I don’t want a Burger King in the middle of it.  I love it just the way it is.”

[email protected]

 

 

filed under: