Media Archive

Sebec committee has split decision on comprehensive planning

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 21, May 21, 2003

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

SEBEC Selectmen are going to the townspeople to find out if there is a need or a desire to draw up a comprehensive plan for Sebec's future.

After three months of investigations, a committee charged with determining whether the town should go forward with comprehensive planning wavered on any recommendation to the board.

Monday night, two opposing recommendations one for continuing the process, one against were presented to selectmen. The result was more than three hours or debate and mucn confusion largely over the state's definition of a comprehensive plan, and whether pursuing one would require this small town of 612 population to also adopt a zoning ordinance.

"The culture of Sebec, Maine, is not like Dover or Bangor," said Buzz Small, chairman of the selectmen. "Any comprehensive plan we adopt would have to be pertinent to the townspeople and workable for Sebec."

The committee investigating comprehensive planning for the selectmen voted 7-6 not to recommend that the town go forward, due to concerns about zoning.

"When we started the comprehensive plan task force, I went into it not knowing," said Mary Downs, a member of the committee as well as the planning board. She said that now that she has studied the planning process, and become familiar with the "10 management goals" outlined in the plans "there's something about it that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up."

"It seems to me that the state is trying to clone all the towns, just to make their job all the easier," Downs said.

Richard Vamum, who chaired the task force, said that the review "was a very worthwhile process," which brought out two very conflicting viewpoints. While some members believed that the comprehensive plan would allow residents to pursue a "vision" for the town's future, others were wary about what that actually would mean.

He said there is some financial burden to the town, in creating a comprehensive plan mainly through the hiring of a consultant, who would review the plan and ensure it follows state guidelines. That cost was estimated at between $7,500 and $22,000 at Monday's meeting.

He said there is also some financial value to the town as having a comprehensive plan in effect would enable for more planned development. He said if a large chain store, such as a Wal-Mart, were to come to town, it "would have a negative impact on our little infrastructure and create a demand on the town for services."

In addition, Vamum said that the town must remember that the surrounding communities - Brownville, Dover-Foxcroft and Sangerville are all in the process of drafting comprehensive plans. He said that there is a danger of unwanted development being filtered to Sebec.

Downs said that the town has only grown 10 percent in the past decade, and that she didn't believe there was a need to protect against "gigantic growth."

Chairman Small said that he would like the town to work on developing a comprehensive plan. "There's a lot of information that is useful in the [comprehensive plans]. I think it would give us guidelines on where we need to go, and give us a better idea of the feeling of the town," he said.

Small said the plan would require an annual budget, adopted at the town meeting.

Small said he is not as convinced that a comprehensive plan requires zoning. He pointed out that the town already has ordinances governing subdivisions, shoreland zoning, manufactured housing and parking, and that those would need to work in concert with the comprehensive plan.

He said that just having a planning board is not enough. "As far as I am concerned, the name planning board is a misnomer. Their authority is to go by the ordinances, but they can't look at the big picture. That's a shame. Who is doing the planning for this town?" Small said.

Instead, he said, townspeople have turned to "micro-managing" others properties. This was in reference to several citizen complaints filed with the town, one of which has lead to a lawsuit against the town.

Jane Lello spoke in favor of the comprehensive planning process. She said that zoning can be changed, as simply as through a town vote, such as what happened in Dover-Foxcroft with Pleasant River Lumber.

Lello said that planning grants could be available to the town to offset the cost. "There's a lot we can do without a consultant," she said. "We don't need money to get started."

Vamum said that townspeople could vote to set aside funds toward pursuing the comprehensive plan, until such planning grants materialize.

Susan Dow, selectman, said that residents need to be educated on the comprehensive plan process and zoning. She added that the state's definition of the plan is needed.

"Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion, but [talking about taxpayers' properties] it gets personal," Dow said.

"I think it's important to get all the views out on the table," Small said. "You need divergent thinking, and we need to converge it together to create a vision. But I'm not sure if we are ready."

Small suggested the board take the issue to townspeople to decide whether or not to proceed. "A decision like this requires a bigger body than is here," he said, referring to the selectmen.

A public informational meeting and hearing on the issue will be set up at the next selectmen's meeting. June 2.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.