October 04, 2022

LURC staff endorses resort’s rezoning plan

Staff members with the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission have endorsed a rezoning application for a $65 million ecotourism resort just outside Millinocket.

The full LURC board must still sign off on the Ktaadn Resorts plan, which proposes a complex of high-end accommodations and a conference center on Millinocket Lake with views of Mount Katahdin. The board is expected to vote on local businessman Matthew Polstein’s application next week.

But the LURC staff recommendation, combined with overwhelming local support for the project, puts the application on a solid footing heading into Wednesday’s board meeting in Bangor.

“I’m pleased with it, that’s for sure,” Polstein said of the staff recommendation. “Our basic goal is to start up right after the hearing, assuming we get the commission’s endorsement.”

Polstein, a Millinocket entrepreneur who runs New England Outdoor Center, has been developing plans for a resort on 1,375 acres on Hammond Ridge for several years. Once complete, the resort could support 100 full-time jobs and provide needed luxury accommodations for nature-based tourism in the Millinocket area, Polstein has said.

The plan calls for an 80-room lodge, a conference center, 20 resort homes, more than a dozen rental cabins and seven family compounds in a somewhat developed area near Millinocket Lake. Polstein’s rezoning request also lays out plans for a 35-lot subdivision, 12 townhouses and an “agricultural village” on the property.

Polstein has said the development, which will be located on several pockets of land on the parcel, will blend into the terrain and natural environment to minimize visual impacts. Although the parcel borders Millinocket Lake’s southern shores, many parts of the complex will not be visible from the lake.

Polstein is seeking to rezone 244 acres for the development. The remaining 1,100-plus acres would retain their current zoning and continue to be used primarily for forestry and nonintensive recreation.

The project encountered scant opposition during the regulatory review process. No one spoke against the proposed resort during a public hearing held in Millinocket in late March, although several people raised concerns about aspects of the project.

Polstein garnered the support of Millinocket officials, the Penobscot County commissioners, the local chamber of commerce and numerous Millinocket-area business leaders. The only two environmental organizations that spoke during the public hearing – the Natural Resources Council of Maine and RESTORE: The North Woods – came out neither for nor against the project.

In their recommendation, LURC staff members noted that there are already more than 40 houses or camps and a half-dozen businesses within one mile of the site. Staff also said local officials testified that Millinocket’s roads, schools and emergency services can readily accommodate the additional demand generated by the resort.

Hammond Ridge had also been previously identified as a “promising site” for economic development, particularly a resort, the staff wrote in its recommendation. Maine wildlife officials said the project would not affect any essential or significant wildlife habitats.

All of this “extensive and uncontradicted” evidence led the staff to determine there was a demonstrated need for development at the site.

“The region has suffered striking job losses that have led to significant population loss,” the staff report reads. “These losses and their associated impacts are challenging the region’s ability to maintain and pay for important services.

“These factors, in combination with the site’s proximity to regional highways, Interstate 95, and a regional service center with significant overcapacity of infrastructure, demonstrate the need to rezone these areas to accommodate the petitioner’s proposed residential and commercial uses.”

The LURC board is expected to take up the Hammond Ridge project, as well as a host of other issues, at the meeting in Bangor on Wednesday. The meeting, which is open to the public, begins at 9:30 a.m. at the Ramada Inn on Odlin Road.

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