We offer a range of project management and planning services to help our communities fulfill their visions as well as connect communities to funding opportunities.
A comprehensive plan is a document expressing a community’s long-term vision for the future, a base for capital improvement planning, and a legally defensible foundation for community actions, policies, and regulations.
The State of Maine’s Growth Management Act requires communities to have a comprehensive plan determined by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to be consistent with the Act’s goals and guidelines. A Finding of Consistency is valid for ten (10) years from the date issued.
If a community’s Finding of Consistency is expiring in the next few years, the planning team strongly encourages them to begin the update process as quickly as possible. Without a current Finding of Consistency, communities may be ineligible or given a lower priority for grant applications and may also be susceptible to legal challenges to their impact fees or zoning ordinance.
Special area plans
In comparison to comprehensive plans, special area plans include a higher level of detail for a smaller area. Special area plans often focus on areas with unique functions, environmental concerns, or subject to significant growth or decline. Examples of special area plans include:
Not limited to educational institutions, campus plans are suitable for institutions with singular control of moderate to large properties or an assemblage of properties. Examples include corporate headquarters, government agencies, medical centers, museums, office or industrial parks, and retirement and assisted-living communities.
Although traditionally associated with commercially oriented roads, communities can also apply corridor planning practices to other elements such as green spaces, rivers, or trails. Most often, communities use corridor plans as a tool for economic development in failing commercial corridor segments. A typical corridor plan may include recommendations on the coordination of improvements to public infrastructure and/or private utilities; how to improve public and private vehicle access, circulation, and traffic flow; aligning land uses and zoning with the goals of the plan; enhancing and unifying visual character; or identifying potential municipal investments and/or economic incentives.
CRITICAL AND SENSITIVE AREAS
Critical and sensitive area plans supply an inventory of environmentally compromised natural resources such as urban impaired streams, sites such as brownfields, the identification of potential threats to coastal areas, endangered and threatened animal and plant species, forest resources, prime farmland soils and/or soils of statewide importance, significant vernal pools, wetlands, and wildlife corridors. A critical and sensitive area plan may serve as the foundation for a community to enhance its zoning ordinance to meet its environmental protection goals.
Downtowns often serve as the administrative, cultural, economic, and/or social center of a community. As a result, downtowns are often the areas in a community with a mixture of uses and residential densities that can support public transportation and active transportation amenities such as broad sidewalks and bicycle lanes. The design of architecture and public spaces express the character of a downtown. In general, and despite the impact of the Covid- 19 pandemic, interest in downtown living remains, not just among young professionals attracted to expanded dining and entertainment opportunities, but also among the elderly who appreciate the potential for car-free living due to the proximity of essential services.
Neighborhoods are areas in a community that people, either internal or external to the area, consider as having a distinct identity because of unique needs, resources, and/or values. A neighborhood’s identity may be based on shared architectural character, development patterns, economic class, history, or a natural boundary. A neighborhood plan provides a vision and strategy to guide change in the area. In contrast to a comprehensive plan, a neighborhood plan focuses on the implementation of specific short- to mid-term goals.
PARKS, TRAILS, AND OPEN SPACE
Communities use Parks, Trails, and Open Space plans to ensure that they plan for adequate public open spaces before development occurs. These plans may include elements such as environmental, recreational, scenic, cultural, historic, and urban design elements. A community should not underestimate the benefits of Parks, Trails, and Open Space plans as they are an opportunity to protect natural resources and biodiversity, create places for recreation and social interaction, support economic development, improve public health, and shape land use patterns. Parks, Trails, and Open Space plans are also important in identifying a growing demand for special-use parks and amenities such as dog parks, frisbee golf courses, mountain bike trails, pickleball courts, and skateboard parks.
REDEVELOPMENT AND REVITALIZATION
Communities use redevelopment plans to improve areas that need municipal intervention through specific actions for economic and/or physical revitalization to occur. Examples of areas suitable for redevelopment plans include commercial areas experiencing high vacancy rates, residential areas with substandard housing, or industrial areas with contaminated, unused, or underutilized plans and facilities. The implementation of a redevelopment plan may require unique development regulations, special financing tools such as a tax increment financing (TIF) district or tax abatements, municipal investment in capital improvements, and/or the acquisition of properties.
Transit-oriented development (TOD) plans generally focus on areas within a ten (10) minute walk, or one-half (1⁄2) mile, of a rail or bus station. Although uncommon, TOD plans can also be prepared for water-based transportation such as ferries. TOD characteristics include the presence of a transportation hub, a mix of uses, higher than average residential densities, reduced parking demand, pedestrian connections, and design elements that encourage walkability. Benefits of TODs include improved quality of life, public health, economic development, environmental quality, and the opportunity to contribute to community character.
Ideally a community, or group of communities, develop a watershed plan to proactively protect high quality freshwater resources. However, many watershed plans are developed as a restorative plan necessary to improve degraded water bodies that may even be designated as impaired waters by the United States Environmental Protection Agency . Funding for watershed plans frequently occurs via grants through Section 604(b) of the EPA Clean Water Act. An adopted watershed plan is necessary for a community to then pursue more grant funds for implementation through Section 319 of the CWA. To be eligible for funding through Section 319, communities should incorporate the EPA’s Nine (9) Elements for Watershed Management Plans into their documents. Due to the size of watersheds and the fact that topography decides their boundaries, not governmental entities, best practice is for multiple communities to collaborate on a watershed plan.
Special topic plans
Active transportation, defined as any form of human-powered transportation, plans aim to provide better, more equitable, options for safe and convenient access to a community’s businesses, services, and amenities. An active transportation plan may recommend and prioritize infrastructure improvements as well as new policies and/or regulatory standards such as the adoption of a Complete Streets policy. Benefits of active transportation plans include increased public health and safety, increased social interactions, traffic reduction, low environmental impact, and increased economic and tourist activity.
Age-friendly communities are those in which both the physical and social environment are accessible to all residents. Planning for an age-friendly community may require changes to land use and development patterns, transportation systems, and public spaces. Although commonly associated with improved quality of life for older residents, programs such as AARP’s Livable Communities Program and its associated Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities benefit all age groups by making communities that are walkable, feature multiple transportation options, enable access to essential services, provide opportunities for social interaction, and support housing that is accessible and affordable.
Currently the state with the oldest population in the country, the State of Maine joined AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities in 2019 and completed its first Age-Friendly State Plan in 2021. In addition to the State, more than one hundred (100) Maine communities have joined the Network, twelve (12) of which are GPCOG communities. Other planning tools for age-friendly communities include, but are not limited to, walkability audits and zoning ordinance audits to adopt universal design standards or mandate or incentivize a wider range of housing types suitable for multi-generational households.
ARTS AND CULTURE:
Although often overlooked, artistic and cultural opportunities are essential to a community’s local economy and community character. They contribute to a tourist-based economy and attract “the creative class,” individuals with advanced education and high-level skills. Artistic and cultural venues and activities are key contributors to a high quality of life and present a unique opportunity for public participation. They also help establish or maintain a sense of place as they reflect local identities and values. Arts and culture plans may be stand-alone long-range plans, incorporated into comprehensive plans as a separate section, or integrated into various topical plans. Such plans may also make recommendations for zoning and other development regulations to create art/artist districts, allow live/work studios, or to link public arts programs to public or private investments.
CLIMATE ACTION PLANS AND VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENTS:
GPCOG’s Sustainability Team operates a municipal climate action planning program to support development of local plans that align with state and regional climate goals. For more information on the program, visit https://www.gpcog.org/551/Municipal-Climate-Action-Planning.
Within Maine, county emergency management agencies (EMAs) or regional planning agencies often create hazard mitigation plans. Except for the Town of Durham, which is covered by the Androscoggin County Hazard Mitigation Plan prepared by the Androscoggin EMA in collaboration with the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments (AVCOG) in 2017, all other member communities are accounted for under either the Cumberland County Hazard Mitigation Plan prepared by Cumberland County EMA in 2022 or the York County Hazard Mitigation Plan prepared by York County EMA, also prepared in 2022.
Housing plans may exist as stand-alone documents or integrated into a comprehensive plan. Housing plans may take many forms, but generally follow a format that includes an analysis of existing inventory, a needs assessment, and an action or implementation plan. Due to current market conditions in the region, most local housing plans focus on the need for affordable, workforce, and/or “missing middle” housing. It is important to integrate housing plans with other planning efforts such as transportation and transit-oriented development plans, historic preservation, and downtown or neighborhood redevelopment plans.
GPCOG, with New England housing expert and consultant Jeff Levine, has recently completed two (2) multi-family zoning studies that demonstrate that municipal zoning is often a barrier to creating new housing opportunities for residents with low to moderate incomes. The GPCOG planning and economic development teams can help communities address their housing needs, whether it is through identifying funding opportunities, offering regulatory incentives such as density bonuses, or implementing regulatory standards such as inclusionary zoning.
Wayfinding plans and systems not only help orient and safely guide motorists, pedestrians, and public transportation riders to a specific destination, but they also contribute to a community’s visual character. A well-executed wayfinding system can make a community’s guests and tourists feel connected to the community and more comfortable to explore the area’s amenities. For residents, a wayfinding system can express the community’s history and val
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