Monday, March 12, 2007
MAINE'S UNORGANIZED TERRITORIES
The unorganized territories make up about half of Maine, or roughly 10.5 million acres.
In 2005, the year-round population of the unorganized territories was
estimated at 12,461. On peak weekends during the summer, however,
population swells to between 35,000 and 45,000 people.
Between 1971 and 2000, the number of homes or camps in the unorganized territories doubled to 18,906.
AUGUSTA - As Maine goes, so go 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
more than half of new dwellings since 1971 being built away from
service centers,Ýaccording 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 happening only in areas next
to organized towns, but deep in the North Woods. Also of concern,
Johnson said, 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
The "Patterns of Change" study found that the year-round
population in the unorganized territories grew about 5 percent between
1990 and 2000, while the number of housing units grew 16 percent.
The pattern of land ownership also is changing, with the number of
landowners increasing 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 in areas near major roads and water bodies.
Much of the development pressure was focused in 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 constructed in
the Moosehead LakeÝand 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 Route 201
or the lakeshore.
Population in the western mountains region grew 17 percent between
1990 and 2000 -- roughly 63 percent of the population growth in the
Until the recent surge, population growth in the territories had
stayed relatively constant in the past three decades, growing about 5
percent per decade in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
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
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 about 2 percent.
The movement of population from areas with services such as
police, firefighters and hospitals to areas that have no services is
not unique to the unorganized territories, she said, but it can be
"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 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 timberland, Eliot said.
More than 120 building permits have been issued for that
subdivision, creating a concentration of housing far from any
"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.