Opinion Spotlight

Our community: Valuing the past while planning for the future

|Debra Smith, NGX Editorial Team|

Looking back
A few years ago, a candidate for Select Board said he wanted to keep new people from moving to New Gloucester so the town could stay as he remembered it growing up, when everybody knew each other and kids could sled the whole length of Gloucester Hill Road from Opportunity Farm to Route 231.

I too have nostalgic memories of the town when we moved here forty years ago, when that candidate was a small child. Neighbors welcomed us with cards and food baskets, and we quickly felt right at home. There was a nice mix of long-time residents and newcomers, working shoulder-to-shoulder on volunteer projects, sharing suppers, growing gardens, and attending town meeting on a March Saturday, children in tow. There were so few cars going by our house in the Lower Village that we looked out the window each time one passed. And we loved the miles of trails and sweeping fields and vistas a short walk from our house. It was a magical time, a simpler time.

Fast forward to 2022
Thanks to generous families and organizations, New Gloucester residents still have access to miles and miles of forests, fields and trails, and the river and lake. The Lower Village remains a historic district; the Shakers have sustained their Village and conserved nearly 2,000 acres, including one side of Sabbathday Lake; and Pineland is no longer a derelict state hospital, but a vibrant multi-use campus and agricultural and recreational center. Our library and parks & recreation programs are central to many families’ lives. Residents, old and new,  value these precious assets and our “small town feel.”

But New Gloucester is growing and changing. Located between Maine’s two largest cities, development pressures are increasing. New homes dot the wooded landscape. Housing costs have risen sharply, the number of older residents is increasing and we’re faced with complex environmental challenges. Thousands of cars pass through our town daily.

Looking to the future
The New Gloucester Comprehensive Plan, passed by voters in 2021 and recently approved by the State of Maine, provides a blueprint for dealing with these challenges while preserving what residents hold dear. The Select Board is key in moving this plan forward, aligning their goals and policies with the plan’s strategies, and coordinating with committees and other groups. This will require the board to focus less on details, and more on the big picture.

The charter currently being drafted by the Charter Commission is another key document that should guide the town toward the future, in response to community input. The Commission will finalize its draft plan for public review in the next few weeks.

Will they be able to strike the balance that the Comp Plan has achieved, between holding onto what is most important from the past while designing a system that will serve our evolving community well into the future?

Community members will have the chance to weigh in on how well the document achieves this and to help shape the proposed charter before it is finalized for approval by the Select Board, and then goes to the voters. Stay tuned!

NGX welcomes diverse viewpoints and invites your submissions. Learn more here.