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After years of debate, regulators approve new zoning plans for Moosehead region

Conservation Easement
Robert F. Bukaty
FILE- In this May 2004, file photo, the sun rises over the mountains east of Moosehead Lake, near Greenville, Maine.

State regulators have approved a new vision for the Moosehead Lake region.

The Land Use Planning Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved rezoning six areas of the Moosehead region that encompass 1,036 acres. These new zones account for just 6.1% of the roughly 17,000 acres initially envisioned for development under the Plum Creek concept plan, which was abandoned two years ago.

Commission staff say they tried to focus potential development near existing hubs that have public safety resources and infrastructure, such as Greenville and Rockwood.

The future of the Moosehead region has been the subject of debate for years, starting back in 2005, when the Plum Creek Timber Company announced plans to build nearly 1,000 new housing lots and two new resorts. The plans divided the community and were subject to years of litigation and revision.

Weyerhaueser Company owns the land now and eventually pulled out of the development plans, citing the lingering effects of the 2008 recession.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine said the new plan charts "a more positive path" forward for the region and balances conservation with potential economic opportunities.

"The new zoning and adjacency rule changes will better protect what makes the Moosehead region special, including its rivers, lakes and surrounding forestlands that support fish and wildlife, recreation, tourism, forest products and carbon sequestration," Melanie Sturm, forests and wildlife director for the NRCM, said in a statement.

Commission staff say they heard some concerns from the public about the impacts of potential development on the region's natural resources, and the NRCM said it's disappointed that the plan didn't include any specific protection zones for critical wildlife or rare species that inhabit the area.

But developers will need to secure permits from the LUPC to begin any specific projects moving forward.

More than 359,000 acres of the Moosehead Lake region are held under a conservation easement.