With little discussion and no debate, the Land Use Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to approve Canada-based J.D. Irving's plan to rezone 51,000 acres in northern Aroostook County for commercial and residential development as well as conservation.
The 30-year plan calls for as many as 330 additional development units around four scenic lakes: Long, Square, Cross and Mud. It also permanently protects nearly 17,000 acres from permanent development.
Irving's plan has been in the works for seven years.
"I do want to make the comment that perspective zoning, this is what this was really all about," said Everett Worcester, the commission's chair.
Worcester says there's a major difference between this concept plan and the controversial development proposal by Plum Creek for hundreds of house lots and two large resorts on Moosehead Lake more than a decade ago. That plan came under fire from all corners of the state but was eventually approved after hundreds of thousands of acres were conserved.
"I don't know whether we've grown up or whether they're just more agreeable up in the County, but in any event it's a great win for Irving and the public," Worcester said.
The rezoning effort has come under fire from the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which maintains that it does not adequately balance conservation with planned development, and from some residents, who fear it will change the wild and remote nature of the lakes.