Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel
'Wilderness sprawl' in unorganized territories
Staff Writer
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel Monday, March 12, 2007

AUGUSTA -- As Maine goes, so goes the unorganized territories, only more so, according to a report on development trends.

Population in the unorganized territories, which make up about half of Maine, is growing at a faster pace than in Maine overall with over half of new dwellings since 1971 being built away from service centers, according to analysis by the Land Use Regulation Commission and a study of trends in the territories.

"I think what we are seeing is wilderness sprawl," said Cathy Johnson, of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, pointing to analysis by the commission and a report titled "Patterns of Change," prepared by Planning Decisions Inc., of South Portland that studied trends in the unorganized territories between 1971 and 2005.

That report shows that growth is not just happening in areas near organized towns, but deep inside the North Woods. Also of concern, said Johnson, is the fact that the report finds that 72 percent of new homes built between 1971 and 2005 were constructed on lots created without any formal review process.

"It means that to the extent that (the Land Use Regulation Commission's) responsibility is to guide development to appropriate areas, they were only able to do that on 28 percent of the new houses between 1971 and 2005," said Johnson.

The commission is studying trends in the unorganized territories as it prepares its revised comprehensive land use plan.

The comprehensive plan establishes policies for the commission and is the basis for the commission's regulations. It is updated every 10 years.

The "Patterns of Change" study found that the year-round population in the unorganized territories grew by about 5 percent between 1990 and 2000, while the number of housing units grew by 16 percent.

The pattern of land ownership also is changing, with the number of land owners increasing by 31 percent between 1985 and 2005, according to the study. In the Moosehead Lake region, the number of landowners nearly doubled during that time.

Land use and ownership patterns changed most rapidly near major roads and bodies of water, which have public values for tourists and sportsmen.

Much of the development pressure was focused in a relatively few places that tend to be close to regional service centers. About 40 percent of new homes or camps built in the 1990s were in the Moosehead Lake and western mountains regions.

Most of the growth in the western mountains area was near Rangeley.

Most of the growth in the Moosehead region was near U.S. Route 201 or the shores of Moosehead Lake.

Until the recent surge, population growth in the unorganized territories had stayed relatively constant in the past three decades, growing at about 5 percent per decade from the 1970s.

During that same period, the rate of Maine's population growth has declined from about 13 percent in the 1970s to about 4 percent in the 1990s.

Caroline Eliot, a land use planner with the commission, said an analysis of the western mountains region also found that while population in the unorganized territories grew substantially between 1990 and 2000, population in bordering towns actually declined by about 2 percent.

The movement of population away from areas with services such as police, fire and hospitals can be problematic, she said.

"You get to the point where you have to build redundant infrastructure ... and you are extending the service region," she said. "That is not a particularly efficient model for the delivery of services."

She said the commission's analysis found that 45 percent of new dwellings built between 1971 and 2005 are located in only 21 townships. Those townships are characterized as being near both a service center and high-value natural resources.

The rest of the new homes built in that time are dispersed throughout the territories.

In northern Somerset County, a subdivision of lots greater than 40 acres was created in an area with no roads and no power in what was once commercial timber land, said Eliot.

More than 120 building permits have been issued for that subdivision, creating a concentration of housing far from any service center town.

"It shows that there is a demand for wooded lots in the middle of nowhere," she said.

As the commission develops its 2007 comprehensive land use plan, Eliot said it is looking closely at how services are provided as well as other issues.

She said public workshops could be held on the draft of the updated plan this summer.

Alan Crowell -- 474-9534, Ext. 342

Reader comments

1-8 of 8 comments:

anna omalley of central maine, ME
Mar 12, 2007 7:01 PM
Living in an unorganized territory is not all roses. We pay service center towns money for services but in reality due to the distance most of us live the services such as fire and police protection are difficult to receive. In the UT that we live we travel 36 miles to a town clerk office to register our vehicle or whatever other needs we have there. Most of us spend a lot of money in the service center towns such as buying groceries, going out to restaurants, shopping, etc. The service towns that have schools ,we help reduce their taxes by the tuition that we pay for our students that live in an UT and in some of these service town the tuition is more than the state average because they are maintaining small schools. I don't see it as we are a burden on these service centers that we are paying our way.

Bill Randall of Winthrop, ME
Mar 12, 2007 6:26 PM
The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) is one of our premier organizations in Maine and thank god they work for the benefit of all people in many, many different ways. I encourage all of the readers to look at their website to see their mission. They are scientific environmentalists who enlighten and inform our citizens about the poisons that exist in many products that are sold to us by those seeking the corporate dollar. NRCM is not a self-serving organization. They are altruistic in all ways and Kathy Johnson is one of their spokespersons - and a darn good one, I might add.

Erich Veyhl of trescott, ME
Mar 12, 2007 4:15 PM
So once again the viro activist Natural Resources Council's "anti-sprawl" campaign is promoting more controls, taxes and land use prohibitions on private owners. This is the same pressure group that collaborated with Washington DC lobbyists to try to get the National Park Service to take over the private property in rural Maine using eminent domain and Greenline land use prohibitions.

People go to rural areas for personal freedomand privacy and to escape the bureaucratic regimentation and social controls promoted by the progressive viro left. The Natural Resources Council can't stand the thought that someone might be escaping. The meaning of their "anti-sprawl" campaign is pro-congestion; they want to herd everyone into urban areas with one neck for one leash. Only the politically correct viros like Natural Resources Council lobbyists are to be permitted to have their own dachas in remote areas.

kev of wiscasset, ME
Mar 12, 2007 9:12 AM
Wow, didn't take too long for the 12 year olds to come out and start with the name calling.

No one will benefit from uncontrolled development in remote sections of Maine. The more land conserved now the better. If you don't like land conservation, there are plenty of PAVED states where you can go live.

Jean of Sidney, ME
Mar 12, 2007 9:11 AM
I suspect "Nan of Vassalboro" is right and these are native Mainers who are trying to find Maine again. Yes, it's nice to have a fire department and hospitals nearby, but I can certainly sympathise with anyone who decides that living in peace and quiet is ultimately more important to them. Sidney used to be the middle of nowhere (and happy to be so) but the way North Augusta's shopping mall disease is spreading I'm afraid we'll have sidewalks and a McDonalds by the time I retire. When that happens I'll seriously consider selling out and moving to an unorganized territory myself.

Jon kinney of Limington, ME
Mar 12, 2007 8:26 AM
Very Good Brian;

She is a member of a left wing enviromental 501c3 wacko group. Who wants all land in maine to be restricted and regulated. She might be one of the few in this country who has Al Gores email address. She must be paid good look at there assets.

Brian of West Gardiner, ME
Mar 12, 2007 8:03 AM
The reason most of us sprawl to the unorganized territories is just that... it is unorganized!

We want to get as far away from that "formal review process" you mention.

There are alot of people who own land that are sick and tired of the crap and baggage that groups like the Natural Resources Council of Maine bring and load on landowners.

I have a good idea Cathy Johnson, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS and leave people trying to escape your crap alone.

Concentrate on a park in portland will ya? They are used to all the foolish regulations.

Nan of Vassalboro, ME
Mar 12, 2007 7:53 AM
It is probably true that there is a move away from major cities and into a more remote area. It would be interesting to determine if these are Mainers trying to find a place where they can be themselves.

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