Plum Creek revises Moosehead plan Developer proposes fewer shorefront houses, larger resorts

This story was published on April 28, 2007 on Page A1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

Plum Creek’s revised development plan for the Moosehead Lake region contains fewer shorefront houses but larger resorts and more development near the town of Rockwood, company officials said Friday.

In the second major revision to the company’s two-year-old development plan, Plum Creek officials kept the number of proposed house lots steady at 975 but relocated 180 lots away from the water. The company also shifted more development around Rockwood and offered to donate additional conservation land.

To compensate for the loss of high-value shorefront lots, company officials want to increase the size of a resort on Big Moose Mountain outside Greenville from 500 to 800 “accommodations,” which include hotel rooms, suites and house lots. The revisions also call for speeding up development of a 250-accommodation resort on Lily Bay.

Plum Creek submitted the revised plan on Friday to the Land Use Regulation Commission, which could hold the first public hearings on the proposal this fall. At 408,000 acres, Plum Creek’s Moosehead concept plan is the largest development proposal in Maine history.

Luke Muzzy, land asset manager with Plum Creek, said the company is responding to comments and concerns expressed by LURC staff, organizations and residents since the first round of revisions exactly one year ago.

“We have always said that we’d listen to people, and I think this is a testament that we have,” said Muzzy, a lifelong Greenville-area resident. That said, Muzzy acknowledged that not everyone would be satisfied with the changes.

“It’s been a long process and it’s been a hard process,” he said.

First submitted to LURC in April 2005, Plum Creek’s proposal touched off an intense debate over economic development, land conservation and affordable housing near Maine’s largest lake.

Plan supporters hope the housing and resort development – coupled with Plum Creek’s proposal to permanently protect more than 400,000 acres of forestland – could help reverse economic declines in Greenville, Rockwood and Jackman and restore the area as a tourist hotspot.

Critics, meanwhile, contend that the development could ruin the natural beauty that makes the region unique and lead to more wilderness sprawl.

Representatives from the Natural Resources Council of Maine offered lukewarm reviews of the revisions.

Cathy Johnson, NRCM’s North Woods project leader, said she and others were pleased to see shorefront lots eliminated on Prong Pond, the East Outlet and the northwestern shore of Brassua Lake. The company also eliminated waterfront lots at Big W, Indian Pond and along portions of Upper Wilson Pond and Long Pond.

But Johnson said NRCM remains “deeply concerned” about proposed development on Long Pond’s opposite shoreline and in Lily Bay.

“Our goal continues to be to make sure the proposed development doesn’t destroy the character and the beauty of the Moosehead Lake region, and that is what we’ll be evaluating,” Johnson said.

Muzzy said the company plans to prevent sprawl by surrounding the pockets of development with conservation land. To that end, the company has agreed to donate an additional 20,000 acres on top of the 70,000 acres already offered as “balance” to the development.

The revisions will not dramatically change a separate deal negotiated between Plum Creek and three conservation groups to permanently protect roughly 340,000 acres in the area. That deal is contingent on LURC approval of the overall concept plan, however.

In a statement released Friday, Jym St. Pierre with RESTORE: The North Woods, an environmental group, pointed out that the amount of land to be rezoned for development actually doubles to 20,500 acres under Plum Creek’s latest version. While containing “a few improvements,” the revised plan “still presents a lot of problems,” St. Pierre said.

Muzzy said doubling the acreage of developable land merely gives the company more flexibility when siting house lots. The number of lots outside of the resorts remains capped at 975, and Plum Creek plans to limit lot sizes to 3 acres for shorefront lots and 7 acres for backwoods lots, he said.

The new plan won a ringing endorsement from at least one Greenville business owner.

Diane Bartley, a Greenville native who runs a catering business in town, has been supportive of Plum Creek’s plan from the beginning. Bartley said Friday that she was particularly impressed with the encapsulated development zones and the larger resort.

“My first reaction was how could somebody not like this plan,” said Bartley. “The company has gone above and beyond to fit the needs of the community while still doing something that suits them.”

LURC staff must review Plum Creek’s plans for completeness before beginning the formal review process again. In a tentative timeline released Friday, LURC staff predicted that the commission could hold pre-hearing conferences in July followed by public hearings in late October or early November.

Copies of Plum Creek’s revised application are available online at http://www.maine.gov/doc/lurc under the Plum Creek link. Paper copies of the application are also available at LURC’s office in Augusta, as well as at the town offices in Greenville, Jackman and Beaver Cove, at the Rockwood post office and at Shaw Public Library in Greenville.

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