News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 16, 2023
Deer Isle rolls up its sleeves on comp plan
Strong interest in planning the town’s future

by Leslie Landrigan

More than 50 people signed up to work on Deer Isle’s comprehensive plan, a necessary step before the town can pass land-use ordinances to control growth. Many signed up during the March 6 election, according to Town Manager Jim Fisher.

The town has also contracted with Averi Varney, regional planner for the Hancock County Planning Commission, and consultant Tex Haueser to draft the document. Deer Isle resident Ed Billings is working on a climate vulnerability analysis, which will be part of the plan. His work is funded by a $50,000 climate action grant.

A comprehensive plan is a document that describes community goals and sets policy for transportation, utilities, land use, recreation and housing. Fisher said it will answer such questions as “How close should houses be?” “Does the town want a mobile home park?” “Do people want more stores?” “Would you be willing to pay higher taxes for certain things?”

But first, Fisher said, comes the public outreach.

“We do need to do a community kick-off,” he said, adding that it should happen in the next few weeks.

Why a comprehensive plan

Deer Isle wrote a comprehensive plan in 2006, but it didn’t win state approval. In 2022, 16 years later, the town renewed the project when Town Meeting voted to spend $20,000. Work on the comp plan stalled, though, until a proposal to build a 48-acre campground came to light.

In February, a special town meeting approved a six-month moratorium on new subdivisions. Subdivisions include campgrounds, multifamily dwellings and condominums. The select board can extend the moratorium for six months, until February 2024. It’s unlikely, however, that the town can finish the comprehensive plan by then, Fisher said.

That means Deer Isle’s planning board will have its hands tied after the moratorium lapses but before the town has an approved comprehensive plan and passes a new subdivision ordinance. During that window, the planning board can’t reject a building project because it has an impact on such things as water, traffic, solid waste disposal or Deer Isle’s rural character.

Comp plan steps

To get the plan done, the select board must name a steering committee to oversee the process from the 50-plus people who have signed up. Selectman Joe Brown said on March 9 he wants to be on the steering committee. Fisher said he expects it will include about 12 people.

The other volunteers will each be assigned one of about 12 chapters, Fisher said. The chapters will include such topics as housing, recreation and marine resources.

“The place where the committees are important is setting goals, objectives and strategy,” Fisher said.

Immediate next steps will be the community kickoff—a public meeting to discuss residents’ visions for Deer Isle.

A public opinion survey will also be sent to Deer Isle residents. Fisher said it will ask such questions as “What would you like to see in Deer Isle?” “What are you concerned about?” “What are your priorities—parks, roads, solid waste?”

Other public meetings will include a session on what residents want and a session on what residents fear.

Fisher also noted that volunteers will not be asked to write plan chapters.