A new task force will update Harpswell’s 16-year-old comprehensive plan — a job that could take more than a year of work and a six-figure investment.

The Harpswell Planning Board was going to lead the effort, but Chair Allan LeGrow said the board is not “fully capable of really doing justice to this plan.”

The planning board wants to maintain an oversight role. “We made a commitment to you that we will spearhead this effort and that commitment is strong,” LeGrow told the select board on Thursday, Oct. 7.

The task force will have about 10-12 members who should represent all parts of the town, LeGrow said. He hopes to have representatives from town committees, the business and real estate sectors, the fisheries and Harpswell Aging at Home.

Prospective members of the task force should understand that it will be a significant commitment. “We are expecting that they will dedicate an appropriate amount of time to this effort,” LeGrow said.

LeGrow asked the select board to support the use of $10,000-$12,000 from the town’s planning budget to hire professional assistance for the effort through the end of the year. He expects the task force to ask for more money at the annual town meeting in March 2022.

“The thing that we need to be very clear about is the cost to do this,” said Amy Haible, a member of the planning board. “It might run six figures. It might be $100,000.”

“This plan will not succeed, it will not be adopted at town meeting, nor should it be, unless the community visioning process is done really well, it is transparent, and it gets to as many people as possible,” Haible said. “This is a public document and the citizens of the town must be involved. That takes effort, time and money.”

In addition to the short-term expense of assistance with the comprehensive plan, Haible asked the select board to consider a long-term investment.

“There’s an awful lot going on and I urge this board to consider employing a full-time planner,” she said. The town currently has a part-time planner, Mark Eyerman.
The select board approved the creation of the task force.

As an early step, the town will request a proposal from the Midcoast Economic Development District to develop a “build-out analysis” for the town. The town is a member of the organization.

“The idea of the build-out analysis is really fairly simple, and that’s to figure out how much potentially developable land remains in the town and what could potentially be built on it under the current land use regulations,” Eyerman said.

LeGrow hopes to send a comprehensive plan to voters at annual town meeting in 2023.

The state requires municipalities to update their comprehensive plans every 10 years. A comprehensive plan expresses a vision for a municipality’s future and serves as a guide for the development or revision of land use ordinances, among other functions.