Comprehensive Plan Summary
This Town of Woolwich Comprehensive Plan replaces the Town’s 1991 Growth Management Plan. Much has changed in Woolwich over the past 18 years, and the old document does not adequately address many of the present values and concerns of the citizens of Woolwich. Perhaps the most significant change since the old plan was adopted has been the construction of the new bridge across the Kennebec River from Bath, which has facilitated access to Woolwich and in turn increased development pressure on our town. While there are both positive and negative aspects to this increased development, resulting growth sprawl has the potential to alter the rural character and nature of our town. Other significant changes involve the creation of a new regional school consolidation unit (RSU1), which will involve transporting students here safely from other communities, and an increasing traffic load on Route 1, as that highway is asked to serve increasing numbers of commuters, vacationers, and business related travel. Finally as growth pressure increases on Woolwich, there is concern for maintaining environmental quality in town, protecting our watersheds, rivers, streams, and lakes and the species habitat they provide.
The Comprehensive Planning Committee began the task of updating our comprehensive plan a little over two years ago. We started with the results of a visioning process that the Woolwich Conservation Commission had recently undertaken. From that we wrote a Vision Statement to use as a guide to assure that the plan we were developing was consistent with the values of Woolwich citizens. Then we undertook an analysis of all key issues in town related to its population and economy; housing; historic and archeological resources; water resources; critical natural resources; agricultural, forest, and marine resources; recreational resources; public facilities and services; transportation; fiscal capacity; and land use. Following this analysis, we set appropriate policies to address those issues, and finally strategies to implement those policies. The Comprehensive Plan does not implement the policies; rather, it assigns responsibilities and timetables for town administrators with input from citizen committees to provide for their implementation.
Most of the policies and strategies we developed surround various aspects of land use. Consequently, a future land use plan was written as part of this comprehensive plan to assure that the vision for the future of Woolwich we have attempted to capture in our visioning statement will not be compromised as the town proceeds to implement the plan.
A central feature of the future land use plan involves the creation of a growth area in the Nequasset section of town. That growth area would include the location of the new school, the present town office, and the present industrial park. Through zoning changes, incentives would be created to encourage future development to be located in this central area, rather than sprawled over larger areas of town. Lot size requirements would be reduced to make development possible at lower cost, an especially important consideration for affordable housing which would also be encouraged in this mixed use growth area. The Nequasset area was selected for growth because of its proximity to a public water supply (Nequasset Lake), and existing municipal services including the new school. Proximity to employment opportunity (especially Bath Iron Works and local businesses) was also considered. A growth area at the Nequasset location would also be consistent with the Gateway 1 planning effort for Route 1.
Such comprehensive planning processes as this often involve a tug-of-war between landowner rights and the needs of the community at large. The Comprehensive Planning Committee has been extremely sensitive to this and worked very hard to assure that the plan is fair to all concerned. Strategies to implement this plan emphasize the use of incentives and education rather than regulation wherever possible to achieve the vision Woolwich citizens have for their town.
No plan is perfect, and it is anticipated that this plan may need to be revised as we go forward to correct errors and deficiencies. But the Comprehensive Plan Committee has done its best to identify the present deficiencies and challenges expected to confront Woolwich over the next decade. We have developed this plan within the funding budgeted for this effort and commend it to you for adoption today.
The Woolwich Comprehensive Planning Committee,
Clark Granger, Chair
Pat Hennin, Vice-Chair
Allison Hepler, Secretary
A Vision for Woolwich
A rural community blessed with bountiful open spaces and productive forestland, Woolwich also boasts abundant water resources that have considerable recreational value. In addition Nequasset Lake serves as the municipal water supply for parts of the town and neighboring communities, and much of the town’s saltwater frontage is tidal, providing opportunities for the harvesting of shellfish and marine worms.
The diverse population includes a large number of people who have lived in the town for their entire lives. More recent arrivals have chosen to reside in Woolwich because of its livability, affordability, recreational amenities and convenient commute to their jobs. Increasingly, retirees with varied backgrounds are settling in town, bringing with them skills and experiences that are assets to the community.
From the early settlement days, farming has been important in Woolwich. Along with the harvesting of grass and salt hay, much of the land was gradually cleared for grazing, and kitchen gardens were established. The stones cleared from pastures and gardens were used to build the stone walls that are still visible throughout the town.
Woolwich, with Nequasset Lake in its center, is surrounded by water on 3 sides– the Kennebec River to the west, Montsweag Bay to the east, and the Sasanoa & Back Rivers to the south. These bodies of water provide ample opportunities for boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing and clamming. Merrymeeting Bay, on the Kennebec, is one of the largest bodies of tidal fresh water on the Atlantic coast. Open areas throughout the town are scenic and allow for recreational pursuits including hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and cross country skiing.
Woolwich has a long and interesting history, featuring Native Americans, European explorers and settlers, conflicts between natives and settlers, and ongoing disputes between the French and English for the control of Maine. Established as a town in 1759, it boasts the first Congregational Meeting house built east of the Kennebec. Many architecturally significant houses from the 1700s and 1800s survive and historic cemeteries can be found in Day’s Ferry, Nequasset, Murphy’s Corner and Chops Point and around the Old Town House.
The overwhelming emphasis, in the 1993 Comprehensive Plan and in the 2005 visioning sessions, has been on preserving Woolwich’s rural character. Citizens spoke of special places particularly meaningful to them and of being able to hike, bicycle, ski, canoe, fish, and swim close to home. They appreciated having the K-8 community school and the safe wholesome environment in which to raise their children.
Grouping new houses in denser neighborhoods has been suggested. This would support small local stores and services, encouraging less dependence on automobiles and making life easier for those who do not enjoy driving long distances to satisfy their daily needs. Walking and bicycling would be encouraged. Other benefits would include reduced traffic and noise pollution, energy conservation, and safer roads and would increase the feeling of “community.”
People have expressed a desire to be able to socialize in gathering places such as cafes within walking distance of home. Other suggestions include spaces for clubs and social groups and community playing fields.
Some people are concerned that helter skelter sprawling development can unintentionally destroy the places and qualities that make Woolwich the special place it is.
Woolwich Towns And Neighborhoods
Montsweag’s unique commercial area, centering on the flea market, Grange, and restaurant, should be maintained and encouraged. This would be a good location for a Park/Ride lot and additional local small businesses. Montsweag Creek should be preserved and trails should be developed up to the dam and across to tie into Chewonki trails. A bicycle trail along this part of Route 1 would be desirable. Problems with heavy traffic and the dangerous intersection need to be considered.
Old Town House, with its lovely open fields and surrounding forest, should be maintained. Recreational access should be preserved and improved, with the addition of better designated parking. Trails might be developed along the stream and lake. Community use of Old Town House should be promoted. Purchase of open space land or conservation easements should be considered.
Nequasset, with the original townhouse, museum and old cemetery, is an historic center of the town. It is also the location of the Nequasset dam, alewife ladder and town landing. The boat landing and the recreational and swimming areas lying along Nequasset stream at the outlet of the lake should be maintained and improved. Unfortunately Route 1 is located nearby, creating noise and serious traffic problems. In addition it effectively cuts the town in two. Bridging local roads across Route 1 would reduce traffic hazards and rejoin the two sides of town. Bicycle and walking trails could be developed, particularly by the school and parallel to Route 1. Marshlands to the east and west of Nequasset center should be preserved. Selective small scale, small lot subdivisions might be desirable in this neighborhood if the historic small town atmosphere could be preserved.
Murphy’s Corner is a lovely open spot overlooking Montsweag Bay and includes an historic cemetery and a one room schoolhouse currently used as a community center. The area along neighboring Montsweag, Phipps Point & Murphy’s Corner Roads is mostly residential with many well-preserved farmhouses. These roads are ideal for walking and biking. Interior land is wooded with some woodlots and unbroken blocks providing wildlife habitat. The area supports a large stable and several families have horses. Historic and recreational features of the area should be maintained. As much of the area as feasible around Brookings Bay and Hockomock Point should be conserved for open space and wildlife habitat. Trails should be improved on public land and, where permitted, on private property. A launch area for non-motorized boats should be provided.
Day’s Ferry along the Kennebec River is an historic village with many well-maintained older homes. An historic church, a one-room schoolhouse used as a community center, Riverside Cemetery, ponds for skating, and a boat landing are also located there. The character of this village should be maintained. Through traffic and speed are a major problem due to narrow roads and limited sight distance. The open space around Day’s Ferry, along with the hiking and ski trails, should be preserved. Adequate parking near the boat landing and a boat launch somewhere along the river outside the village are needed.
Sagadahoc Ferry is located around the four-lane section of Route 1 at the end of the bridge to Bath. Commercial use in this area is a mix of old and new, some of it unattractive and cluttered. The area has town water but not sewerage. The residential streets away from the highway are pleasant, and some nice homes lie along the waterfront. Working waterfront is found on a portion of the Kennebec River.
Improving the appearance of the downtown area including landscaping and upgrading older buildings is a widely recognized need. As the entrance to Woolwich directly off the Sagadahoc Bridge, this first impression is certainly important. Sagadahoc Ferry has a lot of potential for development as an attractive and walkable downtown area that could include a waterfront park. Just across the river from Bath, it could handle higher density moderate to higher-priced housing. Bike and walking trails by Hanson Bay and on the upper level of the Carlton Bridge have been suggested.
Chops Point/Chops Cross in North Woolwich has several important conservation areas including the Coffin Preserve and the Burke property. Since it is located on the east shore of Merrymeeting Bay, additional wildlife and recreational conservation properties should be developed. Existing trails should be maintained and expanded, and a public canoe/kayak landing should be provided. Working farms should be encouraged in this fine agricultural region. Future residential growth should involve conservation development.
The Challenges for Woolwich are similar in general to those of most coastal Maine towns, but some are specific to Woolwich itself. Growth has been a constant factor since the mid 1900’s, as both local people and those “from away” have come for job opportunities or just to enjoy the many benefits of living here. Change is inevitable, but it is hoped that this vision will lead to change and growth in a way that will result in a better town while maintaining those characteristics the community desires.