Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel
Population surges in North Woods
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.

Changing land use and ownership patterns altered most rapidly near major roads and bodies of water -- places that also tend to have the 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.

Population in the western mountains region grew by 17 percent between 1990 and 2000 -- roughly 63 percent of the population growth in the unorganized territories.

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 in the area 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

1-9 of 9 comments:

ewv of trescott, ME
Mar 12, 2007 5:55 PM
This news article is based on a promotion by the Natural Resources Council pushing a "report" released by another viro pressure group almost a year ago. The immediate political purpose is to influence an upcoming LURC revision of its Comprehensive Plan and bills before the legislature for more taxes and controls in the UT. The Natural Resources Council's "anti-sprawl" campaign is against private property and development in rural Maine because the group wants the government to "preserve" other people's property there. This is the same pressure group that collaborated in the late 1980's 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 their personal freedom and privacy and to escape bureaucratic regimentation and social controls increasingly promoted by the progressive viro left. The Natural Resources Council can't stand the thought that someone might be escaping. The meaning of its "anti-sprawl" campaign is "pro-congestion"; it wants to herd us 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 the country and remote areas, which they of course already have and want to keep "others" out.

Leon Richard of Farmington, ME
Mar 12, 2007 5:44 PM
Augusta and the nanny-state communistic socialists won't be happy until they're regulated, feed, taxed, inspected, and policied evything under their little umbrella of control.

State of Maine government saying, "If it aint broke, fix it until it is. If it aint taxed, tax it until it's broke. And if it aint regulated, regulate until it's fixed, and then fix it some more... until it's broke."

I become more and more convinced that the best thing they could do is adjourn. Do nothing, it's better than screwing everything up and costing us more to fix it.

BF HSR of Skowhegan, ME
Mar 12, 2007 4:26 PM
Yup, I am a land owner in a UT, and a large paying taxpayer as well for the 4 acres I have. It has been in my family since mid 1800's, and I had hopes of retirement on it...if...I can afford the now doubled taxes on a fixed income. Don't say it is unregulated...want to know how long and how much it took me to get my plumbing and building permits? DO NOT SAY IT IS UNREGULATED, you don't know what you are talking about. Probably more strick than Winthrop or maybe Portland as well!! Have a great day.

Bill Randall of Winthrop, ME
Mar 12, 2007 2:06 PM
Brian, have you ever thought about how all of the previous owners of the land acquired ownership except for the first owner? The original owner of your land arrogantly claimed it as his own without any regard for the Native Americans who resided on it at the time. Perhaps that is what makes white landowners like yourself so righteous in your beliefs. What would you think if I came along tomorrow and claimed your land with gun in hand like you and your predecessors did many years ago? Landowner rights is a joke and just another one of the earth's problems. Better the government (the people collectively) owned it all and leased it to you for the duration of your life. My land was originally given to William Bingham by the King of England. Who and how the hell did the King of England think he was the rightful owner of the land?

Brian of West Gardiner, ME
Mar 12, 2007 1:44 PM
Hey kev...You bet your butt I own land and I dont need people like you telling me how to live on it!

The reason I bought this land is to get away from people like you that want to control things they dont have.

kev of wiscasset, ME
Mar 12, 2007 9:04 AM
Uncontrolled development in remote sections of Maine benefit no one. Hopefully the revised land use plan will address this.

I wonder if Brian of West Gardiner owns any of the land in question? Perhaps you should mind your own business too... based on your specious reasoning you have no more right to comment on this trend than the NRCM.

Brian of West Gardiner, ME
Mar 12, 2007 8:28 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.

BF HSR of Skowhegan, ME
Mar 12, 2007 8:13 AM
Tunegal is out of tune. People like to get away from places just like Waterville. Peace and quiet away from the spread of sprawl from the Boston area and crime and drug influence moving North. Yes, we need to move North into areas where all we need is a little protection from Moose once in a while, and the 100% increase in taxation for the shore frontage from the State.

tunegal of Waterville, ME
Mar 12, 2007 6:51 AM
Location.Location.Location. The first 3 Rules of Real Estate. The first rule of home owners is Privacy. The next item of choice is waterfront property. Any area where 72% of homes are built without a formal review, is bound to expand. The keyword here is: UNORGANIZED. If the Land Use Regulation Committee is operating at 28% it makes you wonder what it's doing 72% of the time. My guess is they're busy creating their own development trend, in the middle of nowhere.

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