Columbia Falls voters will decide Tuesday whether to enact a temporary halt on major developments to give the town time to craft and adopt standards that would apply to the proposed 1,461-foot tall flagpole and associated veterans’ theme park.
The proposal by the wreath-making Worcester family has been billed as a $1 billion project that would feature miles of memorial walls displaying the names of veterans. It would also have six history museums and a development with hotels, restaurants, shops and an event venue. The flagpole — actually a tower with observation decks that flies a flag larger than a football field — would be taller than the Empire State Building in New York City.
The small Washington County town doesn’t have any land use ordinances other than those required by the state for shoreland zones. The 180-day development ban would allow time for lawmakers to create some, controlling development for the first time.
This is the town’s first attempt to control development of the controversial Flagpole of Freedom Park. The construction would have a dramatic impact on the landscape in Down East, with a park spread out over thousands of acres and a tower visible from Nova Scotia, according to the developers. While proponents say the park would draw millions of dollars each year to an economically depressed part of Maine, opponents say it would be completely out of place in rural Washington County.
According to the 2020 Census, the population of Columbia Falls is 476 people.
Town officials have received plenty of feedback on the idea since it was first publicized a year ago ranging from ardent support to strong criticism.
The Worcesters, who created and built Wreaths Across America into a national, multi-million dollar organization, and their supporters have said the park will honor veterans and educate visitors about the sacrifices made by members of America’s military. Critics have said the cost of constructing the park would be better spent on providing direct services to veterans in need.
Since the project was first publicized, the Worcesters have met with town officials a few times. They’ve also discussed the possibility of the town annexing adjacent land in unorganized territory so that the entire park would be in Columbia Falls. The family also has reconsidered whether the park should be a for-profit venture or whether it should be organized as a not-for-profit, which might make it more appealing to potential donors.
In addition to voting on the moratorium, citizens on Tuesday also will elect a selectman and a planning board member to new three-year terms, nominations for which will be made verbally during the open town meeting.
Voters also are being asked to approve increased funding for the town’s administrative staff because, according to information printed in the town meeting warrant, “due to the introduction of large-scale developments in town, administrative costs have gone up.”
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 21, in the Wreaths Across America gym, which is next to the town office inside Columbia Falls’ former school building, according to the town’s Facebook page.