September 16, 2019

Planning symposium to look at Hancock County growth

ELLSWORTH – Economic growth doesn’t always affect just the community in which it originates. Development in one town or city also can have an unintended and unplanned impact on surrounding towns.

That’s one of the reasons that the Hancock County Planning Commission, working with several other state and local agencies, has put together a regional growth symposium, titled “Planning for Prosperity in Hancock County.”

The event is scheduled for 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Holiday Inn, Ellsworth.

Although Tom Martin, executive director of the planning commission, acknowledges that most planning and zoning activity takes place on the local level, he said there are some areas that offer opportunities for regional approaches.

“Some issues can be dealt with better on a wider scale that can offer a chance for wider coordination,” Martin said. Transportation is one such area, he said.

As an example, recent development plans in Ellsworth, including plans for a Wal-Mart Super Center, and a Home Depot store, have raised local concerns about traffic movement within the city. Also in recent months, towns in surrounding areas, particularly those Down East, have expressed concern about congestion in Ellsworth and have asked the Department of Transportation to restudy the possibility of creating a bypass around the town.

The symposium will give participants an opportunity to discuss those types of issues as they relate to the continued growth of Hancock County.

Any discussion of prosperity for the county will have to deal with job creation, Martin said. The county has a serious labor shortage in the summer, he said, and the opportunities are limited for year-round employment that offers a livable wage.

“Those young people who are lucky enough to go to college, and that’s a small number, cannot often find meaningful jobs in the area,” he said. “For those who don’t go to college, the prospects are bleak.”

Although Eastern Maine Development Corp. and Coastal Acadia Development Corp. are working on a grant application for a regional economic development director for the county, the symposium will give county residents the opportunity to go beyond that one issue.

“We want to look at what else we need for prosperity,” Martin said. “And we need to look at what sort of communities we’re trying to attract people to.”

While development needs to take place, people also need to be concerned about preserving the high quality of life that has attracted and kept people in the area in the first place. Martin said he hopes to attract a wide spectrum of county residents to the symposium, for a number of reasons. He hopes it will be an opportunity for those with development interests to meet with those concerned about environmental issues and possibly strike a balance.

The agenda for the full-day session includes a short review of how the county’s economy has changed over the past 20 years, followed by three concurrent group sessions to discuss transportation, business development and retention, and land use and the environment.

Charles Colgan, a professor at the University of Southern Maine, will discuss state and regional economic trends and will identify examples of proactive community efforts in other parts of Maine and the United States to enhance local economies and quality of life.

The afternoon session will focus on “visioning sessions” designed to allow participants to develop a vision about how they wish to see Hancock County grow.

Based on what comes out of the sessions, Martin said, the commission will determine how to proceed on some countywide ventures.

“Anything we do is going to have to have fairly popular support,” he said.

He pointed out that about 20 years ago, the planning commission developed some regional plans that really were not representative of public opinion. “They didn’t go anywhere,” he said.

The planning commission recently sent out notices of the symposium with a registration form. Anyone who wants more information can contact the commission at 667-7131.

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