Last Updated: March 25, 2019

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The Maine Land Use Planning Commission (the LUPC or Commission) is the planning and zoning authority for Maine’s unorganized and deorganized areas, including townships and plantations. These areas have no local government or have chosen not to administer land use controls at the local level. More information is available at:

Today, single family homes and some businesses can locate in most places in the Commission’s service area, but subdivisions and commercial developments may need a rezoning if there isn’t space in an existing development zone. When the LUPC considers a petition to rezone, it weighs the pros and cons of allowing development at that location, including impacts to the environment, the community, and neighbors. When reviewing proposals to rezone for new development, the Commission uses a policy called the “adjacency principle” to evaluate whether a location would be consistent with the Commission’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

The adjacency principle is one of the Commission’s policies that serves as an initial screen for where the Commission can consider applications to create new zones for development of residential subdivisions or businesses. It guides most development toward existing development and away from undeveloped areas. This helps lower tax burdens, ensures land remains available for forestry, agriculture and recreation, and promotes the health of existing communities. In recent decades, the Commission has interpreted the adjacency principle to mean that areas to be rezoned for development must be within one road mile of existing, compatible development (2010 Comprehensive Land Use Plan, pg. 62). This application of the policy through a one mile rule-of-thumb has been recognized for a long time as an imperfect way to guide the location of development. That is why the Commission is seeking public input to improve it.

The way the adjacency principle has been applied, through use of the one mile rule-of-thumb, is too blunt a tool. The area served by the Commission is large, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always mean new development happens in the most suitable locations. Flexibility is needed to account for site conditions like the presence of wetlands or steep slopes. There are some locations that would be a good fit for residential subdivisions or commercial businesses for a number of reasons, but are located farther than one mile from existing, compatible development. On the other hand, there are some locations that may not be suitable for development, but are located within one mile by road of existing compatible development, and so are eligible for a rezoning.

Only partly. New subdivisions and businesses must locate near other clusters of residential dwellings or existing businesses. However, those existing businesses or clusters of residences could be anywhere, not just near existing communities. Also, this has the potential to sanction a “leapfrogging” effect, which is a form of sprawl, in which each new development potentially becomes the existing, compatible developed area from which adjacency for the next development can be measured.

Yes. The Commission has had an increasingly difficult time making the current system work well in Maine’s changing economy. The limitations of the current system have been highlighted in the Commission’s planning documents since the 1980s. Problems have been increasing. For example, recreation day use businesses and many resource processing and extraction activities are currently treated as if they were the same as a gas station or factory, which leads to an all-or-nothing approach to siting commercial activities. The natural resource economy is changing, and we need to adapt the regulatory system to match. The goal is to allow economic activity that is compatible with a continued forest land base. To date, the Commission has adopted several “fixes” for specific uses, but they could add up to a confusing set of band-aids if there isn’t an overarching policy solution adopted soon.

No. The adjacency principle would remain one of the most important tools that the Commission uses to help guide the location of new development. However, the way the Commission applies the adjacency principle would be fundamentally different. Instead of requiring new development to locate within a mile of another business or subdivision, the proposal would encourage new zones for development to locate in the places that are generally suitable for that type of use; mostly near towns and in areas where public services are available.

The proposal only addresses the issue of adjacency, which is only about the location of rezoning for development. It does not change the law or rules regarding the development of single dwelling units on single lots. Adjacency has frequently been a major factor in rezoning, however, it is not the only factor. Other rezoning standards in statute will continue to apply, including consistency with law and with other portions of the CLUP.

The proposal would replace the one mile rule of thumb with a new system that emphasizes using proximity to public roads and populated areas that provide services to locate most types of residential subdivision and commercial activities. Some types of development could locate near a natural resource, such as on-farm or in-forest processing activities or some recreation businesses. Lake- centered or trail-centered residential development would be allowed in certain locations, but be directed away from undeveloped lakes and ponds.

No. The proposal does not allow rezoning for subdivisions on remote, undeveloped lakes and ponds. This proposed policy would be more protective of remote, undeveloped lakes than the policy in place today.

No. The proposal identifies locations that are generally suitable for residential and commercial development because they are near certain towns that provide basic services, and existing infrastructure like public roads. To create a new zone for development on the ground, a petitioner would still have to go through the rezoning process, where the Commission would take a closer look at the proposed location and consider potential impacts to natural resources, whether services can actually be provided, and feedback from the public, before deciding whether or not to establish a new development zone. Once a new development zone is established, property owners can apply for a permit to pursue the proposed development or activity.

Today, it is difficult to know exactly how much land is available for rezoning. The current policy allows rezoning within one mile by road from existing compatible development, no matter where it is. For example, any cluster of camps can form the basis for a new subdivision a mile down the road. Because there is a tradition of camp development in the Maine Woods, there are likely many remote areas – including undeveloped waterbodies within one mile of a cluster of houses, which would meet the current application of the adjacency principle for the purpose of a residential subdivision. The proposal would do away with the one mile rule-of-thumb, and instead would intentionally direct development to places that the Commission considers to be generally suitable for development, such as within seven miles of certain towns that provide public services and within one mile of a public road. The Commission has mapped these areas, but many of the areas shown on the map will not be developed because of decisions by private property owners, site constraints like wetlands or steep slopes, or the presence of conserved lands. The mapped areas are simply a way to keep most development “near town”, not a pre-approval of development.

The Commission is not aware of any simple, effective, consistent way to identify the edge of a village center. This would make it impossible to build into a rule. Town boundaries are much simpler to identify, especially for the public or landowners.

Measuring by road incentivizes road building, and is difficult to measure if the road is not already constructed. Measuring as the crow flies can be done by anyone with access to the internet, and would create incentives for people to plan around existing roads instead of building new ones.

Concept plans are very labor-intensive and are not appropriate for anything but large areas around one or more waterbodies. They do not work for small or moderate scale development. In addition, they do not address resource-dependent commercial activities.

Doing so would not address some of the shortcomings of the current policy – primarily that it allows development in inappropriate places based on historical development locations. This shortcoming has been identified in the commission’s planning documents as far back as the 1980s. The Commission would like to refine the application of the adjacency principle so that it meets today’s needs.

The Commission learned a tremendous amount from the Community Guided Planning and Zoning processes, and the products the Aroostook County, Washington County and Western Maine regions produced will continue to be of benefit to those areas. One of the things that the CGPZ process demonstrated is that, because of the low density of development in many parts of the UT, it is very difficult to predict exactly where there may be interest in development in the future. That makes it impossible to do intensive prospective zoning for areas that are experiencing slow growth. For this reason, the participants for each CGPZ region only tackled select issues in their areas, not a comprehensive rezoning. The regional processes also highlighted that something needs to be done about the location of day-use recreation businesses across the entire UT, not just in one region. None of the regions addressed residential uses. The products from each region can stand on their own, but need to be integrated into a larger picture in which the common issues are solved in a consistent and coherent way for all areas.

Many community officials that we spoke with indicated that they preferred development within their borders, but it was also important to have enough people in the surrounding area to support hospitals, schools, and other important services. The Commission cannot regulate whether development occurs in organized towns, but it can direct most growth to locate close enough to be in the town’s service provision area.

The Commission has been working on this substantial policy review of its subdivision standards and the adjacency principle since 2014, with stakeholder meetings, focus groups and a public survey. The proposal is based on extensive information gathering and input from a wide cross-section of stakeholders who participated in the multi-year process. For more information, please see the process summary.

Draft rule language is available for review on the adjacency rules webpage.