December 20, 2012

Somerset County OK's community-guided planning, zoning for in northern areas

By Rachel Ohm
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — The Somerset County Economic Development Corp. is asking the state for help with community-guided planning and zoning in northern areas of the county.

The state Land Use Planning Commission, an agency responsible for planning and zoning in unorganized territories and smaller development projects around Maine, requested that interested parties contact them about participating in regional development efforts.

On Wednesday county commissioners unanimously approved a request sent by the development corps.

“What we would like to do is look at the land between Bingham and the (Canadian) border, how it is currently zoned and what its future uses are,” said Jim Batey, executive director of the Somerset Economic Development Corp.

Batey said that while the commission does not have a lot of financial resources to offer, they would provide staff support and facilitate meetings among private landowners, public officials and business stakeholders if the region is chosen from among others in the state.

The development corporation already has raised $25,000 toward development in the area, and it is applying for a federal grant from the Economic Development Administration that would bring in an additional $50,000, Batey said. In addition, he said, towns and businesses in the area would contribute to the development fund.

Bingham First Selectmen Steve Steward said the town is working with the development corporation to bring business to the area. He said the money the town has right now for development projects is a “small amount” but that the town is interested in creating a plan.

The town already has some of its own plans set up if wind tower projects come to the area, he said.
“We are in the early stages of the development program, but I’m confident it will come to Bingham,” Steward said.

Batey said that even if Somerset County is not chosen to receive the state aid, which becomes available in early 2013, the development corporation still plans to go ahead with developing a 20-year strategic plan for the area.

“The only difference is we would be more focused on development in the existing communities and not as detailed in terms of the zones to develop,” he said.

Batey said the unorganized territories are important to bringing tourism to the area because they can be used for recreational purposes such as rafting and snowmobile trails.

“It’s important to have access to those areas,” he said.

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