The Land Use Regulation Commission
- By: Paul Doiron
Open a copy of the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer — that invaluable guide every motorist should keep in his or her car — and start paging through it. Sooner or later, as you work your way “north,” you’ll find yourself looking at maps of places with names like alphabet soup: R4 R14 WELS, T 10 SD, T36 MD BPP. You’ll stumble over strange municipal designations rarely found south of the Piscataqua: townships and plantations and gores. These are Maine’s Unorganized Territories, but most people call them the North Woods.
Forty years ago, the Maine legislature created the Land Use Regulation Commission, usually referred to by the ominous acronym LURC, to serve as the central administrative authority for these sparsely populated areas. The purpose of LURC (and I’m quoting from its Web site here) “is to extend the principles of planning and zoning; to preserve public health, safety, and welfare; to encourage the well-planned, multiple use of natural resources; to promote orderly development; and to protect natural and ecological values.”
This is no small job, as LURC itself admits: “The jurisdiction stretches over half the state, encompassing more than 10.4 million acres and the largest contiguous undeveloped area in the Northeast. This is a diverse area that includes several coastal islands and stretches from the Down East area across the western mountains and up to the Canadian border. Much of this area may seem like wilderness compared to most of the rest of the Northeast, but agricultural, forestry, and recreational activities clearly identify the region as a hardworking resource vital to the overall economy of the state. Residents and visitors alike place a premium on the unique natural values they find here.”
Like many administrative bodies that rule wide territories from a distance, LURC can seem imperious, fickle, needlessly bureaucratic (or scandalously lax), glacial in its decision-making, and indifferent to the concerns of the people living under its thumb. For those reasons, a move is now afoot in Augusta to abolish the commission.
This, in my view, would be a disaster for the state of Maine. I say this out of no particular affection for LURC, which is overdue for its forty-year tune-up. But if central planning disappears from the North Woods, I predict that county commissioners — many new to elected office — will find themselves buried beneath proposals for “too-good-to be-true” golf resorts and “sure-thing” energy plants.
Who, I wonder, will read the fine print? And how long will Maine’s “unique natural values” persist?
- By: Paul Doiron