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Sprawl big issue for Maine

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The Founder
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Sprawl big issue for Maine

Sprawl big issue for Maine

The head of a Maine anti-sprawl group said cities and towns need to dust off their comprehensive plans and put them to use, or the state will continue to lose its distinctive character.

Alan Caron, president of GrowSmart Maine, said the state, and individual municipalities, haven't done a good job planning for growth.

"We've taken some first steps, which is towns struggling with comprehensive plans, but we haven't made a lot of the tough decisions that need to be made, and we haven't seen a lot of the results on the ground," he said.

Caron, whose nonprofit is based in Yarmouth, said southern Maine in particular is beginning to look more and more like everywhere else in the country. There are strip malls and traffic, and homes being built outside of cities. "If we lose the unique character of Maine, which is our brand around the country, around the world, we could see ourselves in some very serious economic trouble," he said.

House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, considers sprawl Maine's top environmental issue.

He said he's seen studies that estimate than an acre an hour is being developed in southern Maine.

"I see urban sprawl as a tax and economic vitality issue," he said.

Cummings is sponsoring a $50 million rural development bond issue that will be considered in the 2006 legislative session.

If approved, the money would go to various projects, including affordable housing, strategic planning, and training for local officials who make decisions about the use of open space, Cummings said.

"It's significant," he said. "We're trying to put local officials in charge of how to plan and ensure smart growth."

Bruce Kidman, a spokesman for The Nature Conservancy, worked on a committee nearly 10 years ago that found sprawl to be at the center of many other environmental problems such as runoff into streams and the loss of habitat.

He said the state has done a good job identifying sprawl, but that local control makes it hard to address it in a meaningful way.

"It's more and more apparent that planning piecemeal, town by town, doesn't work very well," he said.

Local officials who make decision on new business and housing development often can't see the big picture, which also makes it difficult to track sprawl.

"When you look at them cumulatively -- 30, 40, 50 years -- it is rather frightening," Kidman said.

One area of success in Maine is in conservation, where many groups have worked together to protect large tracts of land, he said.

He also said a project called Beginning with Habitat helps local towns understand wildlife and plant conservation within their communities by providing them with maps that show important habitat areas.

Caron said sprawl eats away at open space outside of cities and towns, and leaves service center cities like Augusta and Waterville with high property taxes. Because people are moving out of the city, a declining number of people are left to pay for hospitals, roads and state buildings, he said.

Caron said the solution is to offer money to cities and towns as an incentive to work together. He's working with lawmakers on proposals that will be considered in 2007.

Meanwhile, GrowSmart has hired The Brookings Institution to make recommendations about sustainable growth.

"We can write these nice plans for another 20 years and watch the state unravel, or we can make tough decisions," he said.

Post Sun 01 Jan, 2006 4:45 pm 
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From Away

Joined: 14 Nov 2005
Posts: 108

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What background is there on this "Caron"?
As long as the trend to build is going strong, development of rural Maine is going to continue no matter what "offers" are made. "Joe Smoe" is going to continue to sell the land, whether he needs to in order to pay the hiked "TAX" bill he just got, or to make a buck and put up a huge fence around "HIS" 100 acre wood. Not to mention the out of state land owners chomping at the bit. As soon as it becomes too expensive to live in rural Maine, then this SPRAWL" will reverse itself.
Land in Maine has become more of a money market then a family air loom.!!


Post Sun 01 Jan, 2006 10:38 pm 
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