Whitefield - A BEAUTIFUL TOWN
Whitefield - an old, beautiful, historic town. People say "Don't ever change anything! Keep it as it is." The questions remain - is it possible, and how do you accomplish this?
Lincoln County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. Whitefield is beginning to have multi-lot subdivisions. Augusta is losing population as people move to nearby towns. Whitefield will grow faster as the years go by. This is as inevitable as the passage of time. Many towns in Maine (including Whitefield ) have seen this growth and are trying to make plans to meet the problems that will arise because of it.
Fifty years ago, I moved into a small town in Massachusetts - great open space, many forests and fields, its population at that time about 2000 souls - a population made up of French, Irish, Russians and old Yankee families. Like Whitefield it was a proud town with a strong heritage. Its boys fought at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and in all the wars since. It boasted a library (secured by funds from Andrew Carnegie's Foundation), three or four churches, and a couple of restaurants and neighborhood stores. Also like Whitefield , it covered a large area, with population centered in three villages.
The town became aware of the post WW II boom and had tried to establish some kind of protection that would permit orderly growth, but it failed time and again, and the cry there was "Don't mess with us. We like it just as it is." But came a time when out-of-town developers were flooding nearby towns, looking at all that open land, and snapping up the old farms with their large acreages. Finally the town fathers, business people and many members of the community decided that something had to be done. There began to be a strong push for some kind of regulation so that the town could be kept as it was.
A zoning committee was established and proposals presented to the town. Ninety percent of the town was to be kept residential - one residence on an acre lot. Areas were zoned for business and industry, simply by making business districts in the areas where businesses were located at that time, and industry was zoned where industry had long been established. Any changes in zoning thereafter had to be approved by town meeting. At the various public meetings some folks who owned too small
a lot expressed concern that they later would not be able to build on it, so those were grandfathered. Others were worried about the fact that they had a business in their house such as hairdressing or small engine repair. Those were protected by clauses providing for home occupations. The town meeting approving these regulations was a wild affair, but by that time the ever present danger of the town's growth and the problems that that growth posed for the schools, the roads, fire and police protection, overcame the opposition. As a result, zoning ordinances were established, a planning board organized, and a master plan developed. On that plan, agriculture and open land were given preferred status (but if that open land or farming land ceased to be open or farming conducted there, then the tax protection ceased).
I served on that planning board for 25 years, and its regulations were designed primarily to protect the town and not the developer. A subdivision of open land had to be on an engineered plan, filed and fee paid with the planning board and reviewed by an outside consultant - whose fees were paid by the developer, not the town. That plan had to show proper drainage, wetlands, road access from a public road, road grades, and all lots. The site was always inspected by the planning board and the consultant so that no septic systems could be located near or on any wetland. Sometimes the fights were ferocious, but most people in the town were happy that they weren't stuck with the cost. Once the plan was approved and signed by the Planning Board, it had to be recorded in the Registry of Deeds.
There was always opposition. One of the strongest opponents was so upset by the requirement of a building permit that he went to Nova Scotia to build his house. He was damned if he was going to have to get any building permit, so he started to build up there. The roof was going on when a truck drove up. A senior citizen walked over to the construction site, and said very mildly "Do you have a building permit?"
Is Whitefield prepared for rapid growth? How do you keep it as it is without controlling growth? Many towns have found answers. So can Whitefield.
Many question the effect on real estate taxes. The answer is that taxes will
rise no matter what we do. But it is clear that if Whitefield provides for
meeting the growth, taxes will be less than if we do not.
I have great sympathy for the Planning Board's efforts to establish protection for Whitefield . Above all, the Planning Board needs more operating funds from the town. It needs funds to pay someone to keep notes of the meetings ^ especially those meetings at which the petitioner for approval of a sub-division plan threatens litigation if he doesn't get his plan approved. My suggestion is for the Board to prepare a comprehensive plan, print and send it to every taxpayer, and then hold a series of open public meetings. These meetings may be stormy and negative, but we have to start. (And if this has been done already, we need to do it again. This is not an easy process, but it is one worth doing.)
Denis Maguire Whitefield
return to the newsletter