The forest surrounds Moosehead Lake near Rockwood, Maine, on July 28, 2017. A plan for nearly 1,000 house lots, 2 resorts, a golf course, a marina and 3 RV parks in the heart of Maine's spectacular Moosehead Lake region was scrapped in 2020. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine officials have approved a land use agreement that designates nearly 1,040 acres in the Moosehead Lake region as areas for future housing and commercial development.

During its meeting Wednesday, the Land Use Planning Commission voted unanimously to accept the plan developed by staff over the last two years, plus feedback from residents, businesses and organizations.

The commission’s approval of the plan, called the Moosehead Regional Planning Project, marks a big moment for an area let down when the controversial Plum Creek plan was terminated in 2020. Supporters believe the plan balances conservation and economic opportunities. It could bring a much-needed economic boost to the area, though much work remains ahead.

Plum Creek’s plan was proposed in 2005 and was meant to bring two resorts, 1,000 second-home lots, a golf course and other attractions to the region. Timberland company and real estate investment trust Weyerhaeuser Co., which bought Plum Creek Timber Co., scrapped the plan, citing economic concerns.

This project focuses on six development zones spanning four townships, or approximately 1,036 acres that are just over 6 percent of the 16,910 acres designated in the Plum Creek plan, according to the planning commission. The townships are Beaver Cove, Big Moose Township, Long Pond Township and Taunton and Raynham Academy Grant.

The six locations are either general development or residential subdistricts near what planning commission officials refer to as “rural hubs,” or areas with existing, compatible development and access to public roads. This is because residents and stakeholders who weighed in asked that development be focused in those areas.

In May, when planning commission staff presented a draft package with recommendations for land use, nearly 1,800 acres of land were proposed for development, Executive Director Stacie Beyer said at the time.

The new zoning and adjacency rule changes will better protect what makes the Moosehead region special, including its rivers, lakes and surrounding forestlands that support wildlife, recreation, tourism, forest products and carbon sequestration, said Melanie Sturm, forests and wildlife director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

She applauded the planning commission for involving the public, which has chances to weigh in on the project through in-person and virtual community meetings, surveys, written comments and other means.

The Natural Resources Council was disappointed that planning commission staff did not make changes to protect species that inhabit the region because fish and wildlife face increasing stress from climate change, pollution, development and invasive species, Sturm said.

 “It’s a win to have concentrated development zones near existing service centers, which should give these rural communities a boost,” she said.

For details on the project approved Wednesday, visit the planning commission’s website.