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Comprehensive Planning

1. Guide | 2. Required Elements | 3. Topic Areas | 4. Plan Topic: Water Resources | 5. Plan Topic: Critical Natural Resources | 6. Plan Topic: Transportation | 7. Crafting a Future Land Use Plan | 8. Regional Coordination | 9. Example Comprehensive Plans

Regional Coordination for Natural Resources

The Importance of Regional Coordination

Most land use decisions in Maine are made at the town level. Developing comprehensive plans, identifying land use priorities, defining rural and growth areas, and creating zoning ordinances, for example, are most often done within individual municipalities. Many of the forces that drive development proposals, however, and many of the resources that are affected by development, are regional in nature. Maine's diverse plant and wildlife population and natural resource and natural community occurrences don't recognize town boundaries. Towns share rivers and streams with neighboring communities, lakes are bisected by town lines, and species migrate between municipalities. Nearly all of Maine's Focus Areas of Statewide Ecological Significance include multiple towns. Residents of any given town depend on nearby communities for jobs, cultural amenities, and outdoor recreation. Decisions made by towns up river or up wind from our homes, or even within a shared viewshed may impose the most immediate impacts to our daily lives, but incremental land use decisions in neighboring communities also have the potential to significantly degrade the quality of local resources over time.

However your town pictures its future, more than likely it will find that it cannot achieve its goals without the assistance of the neighboring communities. Without shared, consistent land use planning it is difficult to address sprawl, protect large blocks of unfragmented habitat and effectively manage non-point sources of pollution, for example. Planning for natural resources requires not only assessing the resources present within your town, but also considering the natural habitat connections that cross municipal boundaries. Maintaining communications with neighboring towns is an effective way to ensure that consistent approaches are taken to protect shared resources along town borders, and helps to lay the foundation for more formal regional partnerships.

Maine's Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Regulation Act (MRSA Title 30-A § 4301-4350), requires that comprehensive plans include a discussion of regional coordination describing how municipalities intend to coordinate the management of shared resources such as roads, lakes, rivers, aquifers and major natural resource features that extend beyond town boundaries.

In order to help your town visualize the extent of shared resources, Beginning with Habitat (BwH) can provide a Regional Map that highlights the significant natural resources, including streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, wetlands, undeveloped habitat blocks and high value habitats, in your town as well as the surrounding communities. This map can help identify your regionally shared resources and it can serve as a starting point for multi-town discussions of how to plan together for the future of these resources.

Regional Coordination Efforts in Maine

Regional natural resource planning can happen on a variety of levels. Informal discussions with neighboring towns, for example, can be useful and can successfully resolve conflicting zoning and land uses decisions made along town borders. These discussions can also be useful to develop complimentary standards for the practices that are incorporated in each town's ordinance.

Regional coordination discussions are happening in midcoast Maine through the Sagadahoc Region Rural Resource Initiative (SRRRI). SRRRI is a group of thirteen towns comprising the rural area that complements the Brunswick/Topsham/Bath service center, as well as several local, regional, and statewide natural resource agencies and conservation organizations. Together the towns and organizations are working to devise a regional open space plan and to develop shared tools to identify and protect rural and natural resources of regional significance. They are using BwH and other data to identify local focus areas and to work together to protect the region's important rural resources and special places that support their communities.

Similarly, the Mt. Agamenticus to the Sea Conservation Initiative (MtA2C) brings together national, regional and local partners in a region of York County to protect the community values and the health of that region's shared environment. The goal of the effort is to conserve a mosaic of wildlife habitat, farmland, scenic views, healthy water supplies and public access for the enjoyment of current and future generations and for those people whose traditional livelihoods are still connected to the land and the sea. Through MtA2C, the region's individuals, organizations, and municipalities worked together to develop a regional conservation plan to guide and focus conservation efforts in the area. BwH information was used to better understand the resources present in the region. To achieve the goals identified in their conservation plan, MtA2C identified a two-pronged approach to regional conservation. The approach includes promoting land protection efforts and working with MtA2C's six municipalities to assist each town in implementing local and regional conservation goals. Through this partnership, MtA2C and the communities are working toward developing a regional map of existing and future zoning, preparing inter-local agreements for land use planning, compiling build out studies for the region to inform the regional open space planning processes, and examining innovative approaches to directing growth and protecting the rural areas.

More formal agreements, even those without legal obligations, can be useful and can develop from regional land use planning efforts. Signed inter-local agreements to prepare a land-use plan around a shared resource, a lake or watershed, for example, can define the goals, process, and timeline for planning and management of the resource. Inter-local agreements, for example, are being used in the Gateway 1 Regional Land Use and Transportation Planning effort that is going on the Route 1 Corridor between Brunswick and Stockton Springs. The twenty municipalities along the corridor have signed agreements with the Maine Department of Transportation. Together they are developing a strategic land use transportation plan in a way that reduces impacts on rural resources and arterials, makes use of multiple modes of travel, and preserves downtowns and overall quality of life in Maine's mid-coast region.

Inter-local agreements are also being used in the Central Penobscot Regional Greenprint, an effort, coordinated by The Trust for Public Land, that brings together several municipalities and stakeholders in the Bangor area to work together to develop a regional open space plan. Using TPL's Greenprinting technology, a planning tool that reflects shared regional land-use priorities, the partner towns and stakeholders are identifying and prioritizing community values, developing tools to preserve priority open space and providing a forum for inter-municipal cooperation.

In even more formal regional natural resource planning efforts, some towns have established a multi-town land use regulatory authority to enforce existing and additional standards around certain important shared resources. Recognizing the importance of the Saco River and its resources to their communities, towns along the river came together to protect the public health, safety, and quality of life the river supports. The Saco River Corridor Commission, which is made up of representatives from each town involved, is a state chartered commission with permitting authority for land use on either side of the Saco River as it flows through Maine. While this approach may not be accepted by many towns, it has been a successful approach along the Saco River Corridor.

Towns can also partner to develop joint comprehensive plans. Under the Growth Management Act, instead of developing a comprehensive plan specific to an individual town, groups of two or more towns are allowed to jointly conduct their planning and implementation activities and it provides for the adoption of multi-municipal, regional comprehensive plans. Towns can work together to develop joint future land use plans and to jointly designate growth and rural areas that provide for the needs of the region and not just the needs of an individual town. Local ordinances can then be based on implementation of the joint future land use plan and towns can develop agreements to share costs and revenues that result from the development of shared growth areas.

For more information on these and other regional coordination efforts throughout Maine, contact Beginning with Habitat.

Next: Example Comprehensive Plans

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