Cars and trucks crowd the parking lot in front of the town office in Columbia Falls on Tuesday, March 21, 2023, while local residents wait inside the gym of the former school for their annual town meeting to begin. Residents at the meeting voted 63-17 to adopt a 180-delay on consideration of the controversial Flagpole of Freedom Park, which would include a 1,471-foot tall observation tower built to look like a massive flagpole. The tower would fly a flag bigger than a football field. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

COLUMBIA FALLS, Maine — By a 63-to-17 vote, local residents on Tuesday temporarily halted consideration of any proposal to build a massive flagpole nearly 1,500 feet tall.

The vote result gives the rural town time to develop and adopt building standards for the proposed Flagpole of Freedom Park, a veterans-themed park that would spread over miles of currently forested land and include an observation tower built like a flagpole that would be taller than the Empire State Building. The tower would fly an American flag larger than a football field.

The proposal by the Worcester family, which created and runs Wreaths Across America, 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 vote specifically was whether the town should adopt a 180-day moratorium on “large-scale commercial and high-density residential development.”

There was very little discussion on the moratorium before the vote was held. Only one person asked a question about how “large-scale” and “high-density” were defined.

Agnieszka Dixon, the town’s attorney, said “large-scale” is anything that exceeds 100 feet in height or disturbs more than three acres. “High-density” is defined as 15 or more dwelling units that also exceeds 100 feet in height or disturbs more than three acres of land.

More than 100 people attended the meeting in the gym at the town’s former school, which is now occupied by the local town office and by Wreaths Across America.

Columbia Falls currently doesn’t have any land use ordinances other than those required by the state for shoreland zones. The moratorium will allow time for the town to create some, controlling development for the first time.

Development of the controversial Flagpole of Freedom Park 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. Town officials in the rural Washington County town have received plenty of feedback on the idea since it was first publicized a year ago ranging from ardent support to strong criticism.

According to the 2020 Census, the population of Columbia Falls is 476 people.

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.


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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....