State planning officials are proposing a change to the rules that have governed development in Maine’s unorganized territories for more than four decades. The plan raises many questions, with the most important a simple, “Why?”

The proposal from the Land Use Planning Commission, the planning and zoning authority of the UTs, would do away with the “1-mile rule,” a longstanding policy that limits new housing subdivisions and commercial development to within 1 road mile of existing similar development. Under the new rules, development would be allowed within 10 miles of the border of more than 40 designated retail hubs — towns that provide public services.

The commission says the new rules are needed because the old ones are not flexible enough. They say the “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t consider differences in kinds of development, and often forces the commission to reject plans that don’t abide by the 1-mile rule but might otherwise be appropriate for the area.

If the commission is hearing complaints, however, they’re not coming from residents of areas in and around the UTs or the conservation and recreation organizations who protect and utilize the most remote parts of the state.

About 100 people showed up this week to the first and only public hearing scheduled on the matter. Every speaker was against the proposal.

Opponents say the 1-mile rule has served Maine well, and that’s hard to argue. It has kept forests uninterrupted and roadways clear from clutter that ruins the rural experience. In short, it has kept Maine remote and pristine in the areas where those qualities are of great value — where people go precisely because it is undeveloped.


That’s not to say the rule is perfect. Applying such a specific rule to such a wide area is bound to raise conflicts, and there are certainly areas that could benefit from some flexibility.

But where the 1-mile rule perhaps stifles some development, the new rule could accelerate it into areas where it doesn’t belong.

The proposal could very well push development further away from service centers, adding to the burden of small towns already struggling to provide services. It could lead to development along scenic roadways such as Route 201 in Somerset County, or near trail heads for places such as the Appalachian Trail whose identity depends on remaining wild. It could fragment the large tracts of forestland that in many ways distinguish rural Maine.

Existing rules may need some flexibility — developers may come up with exciting ideas that complement an area and what it is trying to accomplish economically, and the commission shouldn’t have to reject them outright.

But the commission should think twice before making such broad changes. Once development is allowed into an area, it is hard, if not impossible, to turn back. In parts of the state whose future depends on the outdoors, that could be devastating.

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