News Feature

Brooksville
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, October 7, 2021
Brooksville comprehensive plan nears completion
Committee seeks public input to draft report

by David Avery

The Comprehensive Plan Committee has issued a draft version of the report it has been assembling for more than two years. The committee seeks public input on the draft plan before it sends the plan to the state for approval. Public comments will be accepted through the end of November, according to the committee’s co-chairs, John Gray and Jonathan Hall.

The state recommends that cities and towns assess their current status with respect to land use, resources, economy, public facilities and other factors every 10 years. Doing so has two effects, according to Hall. First, it ensures that the town is eligible for federal, state and even private foundation funding and grants. Second, it helps the town think about its future.

“Having a town-approved plan will provide a key to unlocking certain forms of state and federal assistance for projects that will be needed by the town in the coming decade,” Gray said in a press release.

Community input

Throughout the process, members of public have had opportunities to make their wishes known. For example, the process began with a public survey in 2018, according to Hall, and many public meetings have been held since. Nevertheless, the committee has received input from relatively few townspeople.

COVID-19 has presented the committee with a special challenge, he said. Meetings have had to convene remotely, for example.

“Because of COVID, it has not been easy to let the public know what we’re doing,” Hall said. In the next two months or so, the committee will seek more input from the public in several ways.

First, paper copies of the report are at the public library where people can read it and comment via a dropbox. People can also access the report online and share feedback by emailing or calling committee members. Finally, community members may attend two public meetings, the first of which is scheduled for October 14, at 7 p.m., in person and possibly via Zoom. More information can be found at the town’s website.

The committee will send the plan on to the state planning office for approval, where the state judges the plan for completeness. There are more than a dozen areas to be covered in a comprehensive plan. This version runs 150 pages. Ultimately, voters will judge the plan at town meeting in March 2022, Hall said.

He also emphasized that a comprehensive plan—Brooksville last approved one in 2007—is not a zoning ordinance, and it is not the state dictating land use to the town.

Instead, the plan is an assessment of where the town is and where it would like to head in the next 10 years.

Town priorities

The areas of concern include population, economy, housing, transportation, public facilities and recreation and health. In addition, the plan addresses marine resources, water resources, natural resources, agricultural resources, historic and archeological resources, broadband internet, land use and climate change.

According to the committee, there are a few areas that are of great importance to Brooksville. Among these is development.

“A lot of people are moving to the area,” he said. Pressure to develop is inevitable, but, according to the 2018 survey, while most people in town want some development, they also want the town to retain its scenic rural character.

To ensure that the sentiments of the town are met in reality, the plan recommends that the town discuss the issue of development. It does not make any statement concerning zoning or zoning ordinances.

The draft plan states, “while there remains ample developable land throughout Brooksville, the question is, will there be enough land to hold an increased population while at the same time preserving the rural character which the majority favors? The answer depends on how Brooksville chooses to develop.”

The increased population itself is a question that the plan addresses. According to data from the state, Brooksville is one of the oldest municipalities in Maine, with a median resident age of 55 years.

Consequently, the town faces the challenges of an aging population, as well as issues related to trying to attract young families, according to the draft plan. Fortuitously, the committee contends that both of these issues can be addressed, in part at least, by better access to broadband internet.

Like many areas of the rural U.S., the highest speed internet connections are not available in Brooksville or most of the Blue Hill Peninsula. But, bringing such internet access to the town could bring telemedicine to seniors, who now must travel to Ellsworth or Bangor for many medical services.

The same high-speed broadband internet could also attract young families, by allowing parents to telecommute and by helping local businesses to flourish, according to the report. These activities would aid in the economic progress of the town, and also be in keeping with the townspeople’s desire to retain the rural nature of Brooksville, according to Hall.

Saltwater access is another area of concern that Hall highlighted during a discussion on October 4. He said that this has been an issue for years in Brooksville. Most of the access near Buck’s Harbor is private property. There is half-tide access for the public at the town landing in Betsy’s Cove, but there is no all-tide saltwater access near the harbor.

Fishermen and others have been asking for a solution to this problem for years, according to Hall. A solution that the town might consider is dredging in Betsy’s Cove, said Hall.

Committee recognition

Co-chair Hall praised the dedication and hard work of the entire committee. “Through countless meetings and many hours of research, writing and editing, individual committee members showed their love for Brooksville and hopes for its future.”

The vision statement of the committee reads, in part, “If we succeed in finding effective ways to encourage growth and economic initiatives, while also developing the best and least restrictive means to protect ourselves fro m its possible negative effects, and if we anticipate the undesirable effects of climate change and take the necessary protective measures, Brooksville can expect to remain the delightful and desirable place to live that it is now, for the foreseeable future.”

To learn more, email brooksvillecpc@gmail.com or contact the committee secretary, Debbie Grimmig, at 326-8788.