Friday, August 3, 2007

Development Issues

Despite the "slow" housing market nationwide, here on MDI we have recently been seeing a flurry of new subdivision applications. Among them are high profile proposals such as the Acadia Mountain project along Somes Sound in Mount Desert and the Hamilton Station project in Salsbury Cove (Bar Harbor). In addition, the large Singh shore front property in Seal Cove (Tremont) is back on the market with all of the uncertainty that brings. And a 9 lot subdivision was just approved on significant wet land in Pretty Marsh (Mount Desert).

While these applications almost always are reviewed by Planning Boards comprised of talented local residents who volunteer their time, the applicants frequently have a team of skilled professional attorneys, scientists and engineers available to argue their position. Sometimes these professionals travel from out of state to participate in scheduled hearings. It is becoming apparent that the playing field in these cases is no longer level, and that towns need to take some action to bolster the efforts of their planning boards as they attempt to evaluate and sometimes challenge increasingly sophisticated development proposals.

One approach might be for the four island towns to jointly retain professional expertise in real estate law, land use planning, civil engineering, hydrology, and environmental protection. The retainer fees for these individuals would be shared by the towns, and their services would be available "on call" to any town planning board as needed. The hourly usage charges would be paid by the town using the service, but those charges could be recouped from the developer through impact and/or application fees. This would put local planning boards on a much more even footing with developers, and there would be the added advantage that each of the professionals would be familiar with development island-wide, not just in one town. Mount Desert Island really is not very large, and what happens in one town invariably affects residents of the other towns in sometimes obvious and sometimes not so obvious ways.

If you have thoughts on this issue or other ideas to propose, please post your comments.