Comprehensive Plan nears completion

Kathy McCarty, Special to The County
17 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – It’s been over 30 years since the city had a ‘new’ Comprehensive Plan for the development of Presque Isle but it looks like a revision may be nearing completion that would enable city officials to better plan for future growth.    “The current plan is 32 years old, with this version started and submitted most recently in 1997,” Ken Arndt, the city’s planning and development director told Planning Board members at an August 16 meeting.
Plans are to upgrade a document originally drafted in 1975. The update process, according to Arndt, began around 1996 or 1997, with officials just now nearing completion of the project. For those unfamiliar with what the Comprehensive Plan’s purpose is, Arndt offered some explanation at the Planning Board session.
“This document is a general framework for growth and development of the community,” said Arndt, noting that the plan isn’t designed to tell anyone what can or can’t be built in certain areas of town but rather to serve as a guide to keep like projects together.
In effect, the plan will be used as a guide to implement the Land Use and Development Code in Presque Isle.
“If and when the plan is accepted by City Council and adopted, hopefully this fall, this will lead to possible changes to the Land Use and Development Code, which would then be addressed by the Planning Board,” said Arndt. “It is much like a business plan for any organization and serves as a framework for projects.”
The Comprehensive Plan is designed to help the city determine the best use for land within the community, helping to maintain businesses in one area, for example, while encouraging residential growth in another. As time goes by and community needs change, so will land use. Arndt used Academy Street as such an example in addressing the Planning Board.
“We’ve seen growth in professional sites – medical and office space – on the south side of Academy, from the Ray’s Variety heading east toward the Centerline Road. The north side has more residential structures along that same stretch. We may need to address such changing needs as time goes by,” said Arndt, estimating the plan’s shelf life at around 10 to 12 years.
Arndt said the city isn’t trying to tell people what to do with their property. The plan’s goal is to serve as a framework for the city’s infrastructure, a sort of skeleton on which the community can build and grow. To prevent sprawl, Arndt said it was also important to re-use property whenever possible, rather than continually building new structures.
“It’s important to use space wisely. If a property can be renovated and re-used, it serves a better purpose than starting new elsewhere and leaving the older sites vacant. The city encourages developers to consider such options whenever possible,” said Arndt.
Arndt envisions a three-phase process ahead that will help educate the public on the plan and how what its impact on the city will be.
“First, I will be on a speaking tour, appearing before such groups as the Downtown Revitalization Committee, Kiwanis and Rotary, to get the word out and seek input on the proposed plan. Next, city officials will look at the demographics of the area – what are the needs of the community based on age,” said Arndt.
Taking demographics into consideration when finalizing the plan will allow city officials to better determine the use of property. For example, the city’s population is aging, with baby boomers now being the largest category, so the city may want to consider more elderly housing as opposed to the creation of more playgrounds.
Finally, the third step will involve recommendations of where growth is predicted and how best to deal with it.
Planning Board members hope the public will take an interest in upcoming discussions and encourage citizens to attend future meetings on the matter.
“We’re working diligently to get public input,” Arndt told the Planning Board.
The Planning Board will hold a special session September 6 to vote on whether to send the proposed Comprehensive Plan to the City Council for further discussion. The session is open to the public. Once before Council, two public hearings will be held – with one tentatively possible in September and the other in October. If approved, the plan could be in place as early as November.
“That will work for the public and any potential grant writers,” said Michael Mathers, Planning Board member.
The DRC is currently looking into grants to help with downtown restoration and revitalization efforts. But to meet this year’s deadline, the city has to have its Comprehensive Plan in place. If the plan passes in time, DRC members will be able to move forward with grant applications before the end of the year.
For more information on the Comprehensive Plan or future meetings, contact Arndt at 764-2527. For those interested, a copy of the plan can be viewed at City Hall during regular business hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday.