Published in The York County Coast Star:
To the Residents of Kennebunkport:
Residents of Kennebunkport have been discussing, arguing about, and voting down town growth plans since I moved back here eight years ago. The time and energy spent on this debate has been considerable. But I can’t figure out why it continues. Change is going to happen, and you can’t stop it, especially when there is money to be made. This is a plea for everyone to save their energy and their voices. To be honest, the whole thing confuses me. Don’t we want to be just like every other suburb from Portland to Boston?
I don’t understand why growth needs to be limited. If trees are going to be cut down, land bulldozed, and natural habitat raped until everything that isn’t placed in the Conversation Trust has a nice, new house on it, why wait? And if allowing forty-eight houses to be built each year is acceptable, permitting two hundred would be a proud display of go-getter-ism. Five hundred would be an even more impressive tribute to our capitalistic heritage. Nothing is accomplished by feet-dragging and dillydallying. Let’s be real achievers and get it over with, then we can all go back to our quilting and internet poker.
Apparently, people want to keep land in their families. You can’t blame them for that. I’d like to know who the fiends are that are forcing them to sell. But land is a commodity like everything else here in the United States; that’s what makes us great. I do wonder, however, how many of these landowners we would be hearing from if they had sold their family acres twenty years ago and dumped the proceeds into Microsoft. Still, you can’t fault people for wanting to make as much money as they possibly can. We all want to live comfortably, kids have to go to college, and high definition plasma televisions need to be purchased.
And what is the problem with the existing zoning laws anyway? Who among us doesn’t like to drive along the rural edges of town, through residential and open areas complete with farms, families, kids, dogs, and the occasional whitetail deer? Anyone can see that a comedy club, Jiffy Lube, or mobile home park (allowed under the brilliant “Free Enterprise” and “Farm and Forest” zoning guidelines) would only add to the delight of the existing vistas. If that’s what current land use regulations permit, then that must be what the town needs.
I hope none of you think that I am demeaning people who live in mobile homes or suggest that they would be undesirable. A town needs people of all backgrounds and beliefs. That’s what differentiates a community from a country club. It shouldn’t be a requirement that to buy a house in Kennebunkport, one needs to have their primary residence in Newton, Massachusetts, Greenwich, Connecticut, or—god forbid—New York City.
The debate on lot size seems to be a waste of time, as well. Some worry that a typical working or middle class family won’t be able to afford property in Kennebunkport if lot sizes are increased. These people are absolutely correct. Of course, with an average one acre lot price currently in excess of $150,000, that typical family is already shut out from buying land, never mind an entire house complete with indoor plumbing. (The US Census projects the 2006 median income for a family of four in Maine to be $59,596. If no family members ate or wore clothes, it might be doable!) So why waste time trying to figure out how to make the zoning laws and growth plans more effective? In “country” terms, the horse is already out of the 1.2 million dollar barn.
My wife and I consider ourselves lucky. We certainly couldn’t afford to purchase land and build a house here today. And I confess that I don’t want to see the rural, wooded nature of my neighborhood descend into that indistinguishable sprawl that reaches from the city limits of Boston to our very own town line—just so that a few people can make some money. Does that make me a bad person? Probably not. Would I think differently if I owned 10.6 acres instead of 1.6? I might. But this is about the town of Kennebunkport. If we removed everyone motivated by self-interest, the deer would outnumber the people. Come to think of it, maybe Kennebunkport would be better off that way.