Bowdoinham is a small Maine town 30 miles or so between the state’s largest metropolitan region of Portland, and the state’s capital city of Augusta. Bowdoinham is largely a rural place taking up approximately 34 square miles and has about 2,770 people residing within its boundaries, as of the 2010 census. As Bowdoinham embarks on their comprehensive planning process, they began by envisioning who it is they are and want they want to be. For the residents of Bowdoinham who are actively involved in the planning process, they clearly stated that they hope Bowdoinham maintains its charming rural character.
Students of Mark Lapping’s, Introduction to Community Planning Class have been “contracted” to work with the town of Bowdoinham, ME, to conduct Land Use Planning, GIS Mapping, Forestry & Agricultural Resources Analysis, in an effort to help them develop an updated Comprehensive Plan.
My role was primarily technical in nature, conducting GIS mapping and analysis for the land use planning and the forestry resources group. Along with another student, I set about to conduct a build out analysis of the town. Bowdoinham has no actual zoning, but does have a town-wide land use ordinance in place. This ordinance specifies large lot sizes (about an acre) for development throughout the town, which they classify town-wide as a residential/agricultural district.
The first scenario that was conducted looked at the preservation of Bowdoinham’s rural character, natural resources, existing forest and agricultural lands. The goal was to show the town of Bowdoinham what their town could look like, preserving what the citizen’s feel Bowdoinham should be, in light of the town’s current land use ordinance, with restrictions on development in these areas.
In a GIS, the appropriate land use data layers were merged including: soil suitability, current agriculture lands, unsuitable soils for development, protected lands, and other layers conducive to protecting the rural integrity of Bowdoinham. A symmetrical difference function was performed with this merged layer against the town’s parcel layers, giving us a pretty clear picture of what lands could be developed, if the town chooses to maintain their rural character and develop policies aimed at preservation.
A no-holds-barred scenario which only discounted areas that were unsuitable to building structures and lands with special easements on development (transportation right of way, Shore-land Zoning, etc.). The differences are astounding.
Bowdoinham, which currently has about 1,200 residential structures could be looking at ten times that amount of structures under the current land use ordinance and with no vision for how it wants to protect open space and rural character. By protecting open space, forests, habitat, and agricultural lands, Bowdoinham could be looking at the potential for growth in habitable structures of only four times, the amount that it currently has now.
A third scenario was proposed that takes advantage of Bowdoinham’s Downtown Water Service District. What if this area was the focus for growth in Bowdoinham, and the rest of the town was preserved as much as possible, through zoning or land use districting measures that help Bowdoinham accomplish it’s goal or rural preservation? How would this scenario look? Bowdoinham could be only looking at an additional 1,000 structures developed all within a somewhat dense (dense is a relative term here) downtown core area. Limits to this type of development would be the water service districts capacity as well as the minimum area needed for parcels on a septic system, and not a city-wide sewer system, something I don’t think Bowdoinham could nor should afford, regardless of where the funds came from.
These are some of the map products I created in the process.