Hebron plans to avoid, or accept, the inevitable

Residents of Hebron came out on Wednesday, Aug. 27, to help plan the future of the town.
Residents of Hebron came out on Wednesday, Aug. 27, to help plan the future of the town.

By Ann Wood

HEBRON—  Small town atmosphere, farmland and open access to land are three things that residents of Hebron said they wanted to retain at a public comprehensive planning meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 27. But as a through-way to Lewiston and Auburn, controversy abounds about whether Route 119 may become a business corridor or whether increasing traffic should be—or can be—discouraged.

“We like this solitude, isolation, kind of community,” Gino Valeriani, chair of the Comprehensive Plan Committee said, adding that residents also like the town’s proximity to Paris, Portland and Auburn. “We’ve been able to have it kind of both ways here in Hebron.”

While everyone agreed there’s never much property up for sale in town, the fact that it is near to so much means that businesses could come in and take advantage of the traffic on Route 119—mostly unregulated—unless there’s a plan in place.

About 15 people met for the Comprehensive Plan Visioning Meeting, which will look at the history, current situation and future of the town. John Maloney, senior planner at the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, will write a policy and recommendation document that the town will use to plan for its future.

The last comprehensive plan in Hebron was approved in 1983 and states that the townspeople want to maintain its rural charter, open space, wildlife and keep it family friendly.

“As far as purposes go, this is what you have for a plan right now,” Maloney said, adding that a thick plan penned in the early ’90s was quickly rebuked by Town Meeting. That’s because voters refused to approve the zoning regulations embedded within it, Bob Swift, a comprehensive plan committee member back then, said.

The selectmen formed the latest incarnation of the Comprehensive Plan Committee on Jan. 1 of this year, and that group has since met monthly to look at the character of the town. Turns out, the annual household income in Hebron is about $57,000—higher than the state average of just over $48,000 from 2008 to 2012 and significantly higher than the county average, which was around $41,500 during that period. Its residents are also younger than most towns and cities in the state and have younger children, Mahoney said.

Traffic wasn’t the only concern. Residents worry about developers buying up large acres of property and building cluster housing on it, which, several said, would ruin the rural look of the town. There was also concern that the wrong buyers could easily ruin Hebron’s historic downtown. And yet, no one was ready to say they wanted districts—historic, farming or retail—or to create minimum lot sizes for houses.

“Once you start talking about districts you’re walking really close to zoning,” said Selectman Daniel Eichorn.

What the townspeople agreed they wanted was more citizen participation on boards, to make a decision on how to approach Route 119 and possibly consider a bypass, to maintain the town’s low tax rate and to keep the town center’s historical nature.

After more than 90 minutes of discussion, Maloney said that he will take the information garnered from the people and write a vision plan statement and a draft Comprehensive Plan to take to the committee. The committee will tweak it and return it to the town, after which Town Meeting will vote on it. A Comprehensive Plan is needed, Mahoney said, to direct the future of the town and enable it to successfully apply for state and federal grants.