NEWPORT – The town of Newport is a geographical bonanza for economic development. Routes 2, 11, 100 and 7 converge just off Interstate 95 at a triangular business district that over the past decade has seen an explosion in growth and skyrocketing land prices.
Sherri Trundy of Trundy Realty said a 11/2-acre parcel at the Triangle is being offered at $600,000 – six times what a similar parcel less than one-half a mile away recently garnered.
But as the growth continued, the Triangle ran out of room. With Route 7 – the Moosehead Trail heading to Greenville – zoned agricultural and residential, developers looked west and south toward Palmyra.
Drive just a quarter of a mile from the Triangle, and land prices drop to $135,000 or less for an acre-and-a-half.
Wal-Mart, Newport Motor Sports, Dunkin’ Donuts and Burger King all located over the town line into Palmyra, and within the last year two businesses previously located in Newport also moved over the line into Palmyra, headed south toward Pittsfield.
“Commercial development is not going out Route 2,” said Trundy, citing diminished traffic counts.
More than 14,800 cars a day pass through the Triangle, according to Jane Briggs of the Sebasticook Valley Chamber of Commerce. Move a few feet up the road to the Moosehead Trail and the numbers are still strong: 11,050 a day.
“The only logical direction for commercial growth within Newport is Route 7,” Trundy said.
But therein lies a problem, said Town Manager James Ricker. Zoning does not permit commercial development without town approval. Since the comprehensive plan and zoning regulations were adopted in 1996, the town’s planning board has approved individual zone changes, piece by piece, a situation that Ricker calls “dangerous.”
“That’s what the state calls sprawl,” said Ricker.
In an effort to foster growth and look to future zoning needs, Ricker is working with planners at the Penobscot Valley Council of Governments to undertake a complete review of the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances. With an eye toward the future, Ricker said: “We’d be remiss to think we can sit here and be stagnant. The development will happen and we need to ensure that it is appropriate and directed.”
Once a review occurs, Ricker hopes new amendments to the plan and ordinances can be developed and “that Newport will be [in] better positions for more commercial development.”
“The reality is we are shifting from an industrial-based community to a commercial, service center,” said Ricker. Companies like the Hood’s cottage cheese plant, Sysco foods and others have left town to be replaced by Wendy’s and McDonald’s restaurants, car dealers and hairdressers.
Route 7 has been identified by the Maine Department of Transportation as a major corridor, said Ricker, and one of the issues in future development will be creating service roads rather than allowing individual businesses to have individual driveways.
Ricker hopes that any changes will be ready for the annual town meeting next March.
Changing the zoning restrictions will be key to future growth, agreed David Ireland, owner of Integrity Realty. “This has been a major stumbling block and because of it, Palmyra has been prospering. It’s hard to watch the development heading up Route 2 and down Route 100. We want to keep it here in town.”