In April, the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) received a petition that could change the nature of development in the backwoods of Maine. The proposal from the Plum Creek Timber Company, a Seattle-based real estate investment trust and one of the largest private landowners in the U.S., outlines its 30-year plan for the future of 426,000 of its 928,000 acres in the remote Moosehead Lake Region. The company has not announced plans for the balance of the land.
As part of the proposal, Plum Creek created a concept plan that delineates their long-range plan for both development and conservation of their land. LURC created these plans as alternatives to traditional subdivision development regulation in order to promote land use that benefits both public and private interests with a mix of conservation and development. Since most of the land in LURC’s jurisdiction is owned by timber companies in large, intact holdings, few landowners have submitted concept plans since the option was created in 1990, and none has been on the scale of the Plum Creek proposal, which, if approved, would result in the largest subdivision in Maine’s history.
Components of the plan are:
Ninety percent of the acreage covered in the plan – 382,000 acres of non-shorefront land – will be off-limits to development for 30 years and reserved for forest management.
Over the next 15 years, the company proposes to develop 9,320 acres of land, 2.2 percent of plan’s acreage. It wants to create 975 new residential lots with 575 of those on the shorefronts of 16 lakes. Lakeshore lots will encompass 1,755 acres, and 2,000 acres will be in back lots. Along with residential lots, there are plans for a 3,000-acre nature-tourist facility, a 500-acre tourist center on Brassua Lake, and a 1,000-acre industrial site; another 600 acres are to be divided between three commercial sites.
The company agrees to permanently conserve approximately 10,890 acres of shoreland through conservation easements. In addition, they will permanently protect 71 miles of snowmobile trails and 55 miles of hiking trails. And 21,000 acres of wetlands, deeryards, and high mountain areas and other unusual areas will continue to be protected natural resource districts.
Opponents of the project cite Plum Creek’s reputation for subdividing forestland in western states, and they fear that this ambitious plan is just the start of a trend. It is not, in fact, the first subdivision Plum Creek has engineered in Maine. Plum Creek entered Maine with a big splash in 1998 when it bought 905,000 acres from SAPPI, a global paper company. Subsequently, Plum Creek sold parcels to the state and the Appalachian Trail Conference for conservation purposes. In August 2001, the company submitted a proposal to LURC for an 89-lot subdivision surrounding First Roach Pond. It was approved in 2002, and the parcels sold within weeks.
Currently, Plum Creek’s concept plan is under review. The plan is so large that LURC is hiring a consulting firm to serve as project coordinator for the review process. Elements of the development can change during this process, which, because of its scope, will likely take a year or more.