AUGUSTA – Plum Creek Timber Co.’s proposal to build several new subdivisions on First Roach Pond, north of Greenville near Kokadjo, received unanimous approval from the Land Use Regulation Commission on Wednesday. The panel also approved the first phase of development, which consists of three subdivisions totaling 28 lots.
The full plan to build up to 89 new house lots in 10 subdivisions has been criticized by environmental groups, saying it allows Plum Creek to make money developing its land while the public gets nothing in return. Environmentalists say the 7-mile-long pond, which is part of a chain, is remote and worthy of protection, although there are more than 100 camps mostly along its southern shores.
Plum Creek, although primarily a timber harvesting company, is organized as a real estate investment trust, and many conservationists fear the First Roach plan is the beginning of many development schemes the company will announce for the 905,000 acres it owns in Maine. This fear was heightened late last year when the company announced it was intensifying its land development efforts nationally.
Plum Creek officials said Wednesday that they have no plans for future development efforts in Maine.
“We don’t have any other plans for something like this,” Mike Yeager, director of land management for the northern region, said in an interview after the LURC vote. “There is not another concept plan on our drawing board.”
Still, Cathy Johnson of the Natural Resources Council of Maine said the vote meant “the dominoes are starting to fall.”
“Is Second Roach Pond next?” she wondered. She was particularly angered that LURC approved the plan, because it contained only “anemic conservation measures.”
As part of the overall concept plan approved by LURC Wednesday, 1,019 acres near the pond would be put into conservation easements and covenants and another 160 acres would be held by the pond’s yet-to-be-created homeowners associations as “common lands.” The developed area would encompass 275 acres.
Development would be prohibited and public access assured on the easement and covenant lands. The easement, covering 525 acres, will be held by the state Bureau of Parks and Lands. The covenant, covering 494 acres, will be held by the homeowners associations, private lot owners and LURC. The land covered by these agreements will continue to be owned by Plum Creek, which can harvest timber on it.
In approving the three subdivisions, Johnson said, LURC did not commit to preserving land that the public can use. Instead, the 5,800 acres that would be protected in this phase are nothing more than “big back yards” that will be used only by the homeowners.
Plum Creek plans to begin marketing the lots this spring. Yeager would not discuss a dollar figure for them, saying the company will work with local brokers to help determine the asking price. The largest lots – seven 11-acre parcels – are rumored to sell for $100,000, with smaller lots fetching $60,000 each.
Yeager said that to date the company has received hundreds of inquiries about the Roach Pond development, 80 percent of them coming from within the state. The vast majority of the homes will be seasonal, and will not be large, he predicted.
The single commission member who voted against one of the subdivision proposals did so because she said she was concerned that people would build “minimansions” that would harm scenic vistas.
“I am concerned that people will build large houses on the large lots,” said Mary Beth Dolan of Monhegan Island. She voted against the “peninsula” subdivision – the seven 11-acre lots on a spit of land at the eastern end of the lake. These are by far the largest lots that Plum Creek proposes to create.
Another commission member, Theresa Hoffman, a geologist from Waterville, was concerned that the subdivisions would turn into “little gated communities,” but she voted for them anyway. Plum Creek officials said it is company policy not to put gates on its roads.
Plans to go ahead with the next phase of development depend on the success of the first three subdivisions, Yeager said. “If the first phase is not a success, there may not be a second phase,” he said.
In other action, LURC director John Williams, who is leaving the post at the end of the week to take over as head of the Maine Pulp and Paper Association, announced that Catherine Carroll had been named acting director of the agency. Carroll has spent 14 years at LURC and is currently head of its compliance division. The Department of Conservation is continuing its search for a permanent LURC director.