Maine Model Town

Launch Project Slideshow

Maine Model Town Standish, Maine

“We, the People of Standish, Maine, recognize that our community is a treasure of open spaces and natural beauty....” So begins the “2016 Vision for the Town of Standish,” born on a cold night in January 2004, when more than 50 people convened in the Town Council Chambers to create a new vision for the future of their town. Citizens produced a Vision Statement and a new Comprehensive Plan by 2006, which call for revitalization of the town center of Standish Corner, new business growth and conservation of Standish’s open space and rural character. But realizing that vision has turned out to be harder than anyone thought. 

The Vision and Comprehensive Plan reflect both hopes for the future and the harsh realities of the past. Land use planning in Standish, Maine had been alive and well for decades before that January meeting, but if you toured the village centers and back roads of this largely rural town you wouldn’t necessarily know it. The Town developed a 1992 Comprehensive Plan and zoning policies that directed new growth into established village centers, but today rural roads and wilderness areas are lined with new subdivisions while the villages languish. 73 percent of new development between 1999 and 2004 occurred in designated Rural Areas, while only 27 percent occurred in Growth Areas.

By 2004, citizens realized that traditional planning techniques and documents weren’t enough to keep Standish from becoming a sprawling suburb of Portland. As they looked for ways to move from vision to action, the non-profit organization GrowSmart Maine (GSM) and communities across the State were struggling with the same questions: What would it take to develop actionable, citizen-inspired growth management plans? What innovative planning tools and processes might help turn a vision into reality? What can communities across Maine learn from each other’s successes and mistakes?

GrowSmart Maine and a variety of other partners came together to create the Maine Model Town project, which attempts to answer many of those questions by experimenting with new planning processes and tools in a single “model” community. The project will leave the Town of Standish with new, actionable, citizen-inspired plans for Standish Corner and town-wide Open Space and it will leave GrowSmart Maine with a host of lessons and demonstrated approaches that rural communities across the State can put to use.

Standish Today

For a fast-growing commuter town outside Portland, southern Maine’s economic hub, Standish is also a surprisingly rural enclave. Just 20 miles and a half hour drive from the city, Standish is one of several towns expanding rapidly as bedroom communities. Standish’s growth is fueled in part by a strong transportation network—four state highways and the Mountain Division Line railway crisscross the Town—but Standish is also growing as an amenity destination. Located along the Saco River at the south end of Sebago Lake, Maine’s deepest and second largest, Standish is a haven for urban commuters, for summer visitors and weekend tourists. The Town’s population increased by more than 20 percent between 1990 and 2000 and growth is expected to continue, if at a somewhat slower rate.

Four out of five residents work outside of Standish in Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, and other communities. As in many New England towns, Standish’s work force now depends on jobs in the retail and service sectors, while jobs in natural resources and manufacturing have sharply declined. The community’s long history as a timber and agricultural town has mostly ended, with only four farms remaining, but Standish is still largely rural in character. Fields and forests are scattered among areas of suburban residential development, with year-round development concentrated at the villages of Standish Corner, Steep Falls, Sebago Lake Village and the campus of St. Joseph’s College on the east side of Sebago Lake. Public access to Sebago Lake allows for swimming, sailing, water skiing, fishing and ice fishing. Seasonal homes have sprung up on the shores of Sebago Lake, the Saco River and other water bodies, but landowners are increasingly converting them into year-round homes to satisfy a growing demand for affordable housing.

Both the Town’s 1992 and 2006 Comprehensive Plans acknowledge the community’s role in accommodating regional growth while reflecting citizens’ desire to retain their town’s rural character, but the Town has made only limited progress toward achieving that balance. Standish adopted zoning changes to enforce the 1992 Plan and it has since enacted an annual Growth Cap Ordinance limiting residential development building permits, a Cluster Development Ordinance and conducted a systematic review of land use codes, but new development still permeates rural areas and threatens the community’s character.

More recent planning efforts show increased specificity about the community’s vision and plan for growth. The 2006 Comprehensive Plan recommended directing a majority of residential and commercial growth into three village center growth areas: Steep Falls, Standish Corner, and Sebago Lake Village and The Town adopted a Differential Growth Cap allocating 70 percent of the annual building permits to designated Growth Areas and 30 percent to designated Rural Areas. In 2007 the Town developed a more detailed Village Master Plan for Standish Corner, but the document still lacked enough specificity to clearly lead to implementation. The Model Town Project will, among other things, enable the Town to define a plan for Standish Corner and the surrounding landscapes and recommend specific zoning changes needed to implement the Village vision.

History & Context

In its early days, the Sokokis Tribe of Abenaki Indians traveled between Maine and New Hampshire on the Ossipee Trail—now the bustling Route 25—periodically hunting and inhabiting the area that is now Standish. In 1750, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay awarded settlement rights for a 22,640 acre township to Captains Moses Pearson and Humphrey Hobbs and 120 of their men, who established Pearson and Hobbs Town.

The Town’s early days were plagued by Indian raids and near-starvation, but families built a fort and meeting house and slowly began to settle outlying land after fighting ended in 1759. In 1785, citizens held the first elections and incorporated the town as Pearsontown; they later changed the name to Standish, likely in honor of Captain Myles Standish. Standish grew steadily throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, with new farms and roads clustered around Standish Corner, Oak Hill, and along the river near Steep Falls.

Standish Corner was the business hub of the town and an important stage stop through the mid-1800s. The Portland and Ogdenburg Railroad, completed in 1875, ran along the Sebago Lake shorefront and across Standish through Steep Falls, eventually continuing on through New Hampshire and to Vermont. Watermills on Standish’s many streams and rivers fueled the production of lumber, textiles, flour, boxes, barrel staves and other products.

Tourism was also important as early as the mid-1800s, when visitors could take the train from Portland, ride a steamboat the length of Sebago Lake, and return to the City in the evening. Standish’s growth continued steadily throughout the 20th Century, prompting residents to think seriously about land use planning.

Project Goals

  • Increase meaningful civic engagement, including broader public participation by youth and other underrepresented groups.
  • Build town capacity in the decision-making process and explore the use of new tools and processes for planning.
  • Use CommunityViz® and other innovative tools to help residents visualize and understand local growth scenarios.
  • Address Standish’s goals of revitalizing Standish Corner and attracting new businesses, linked to conservation of town-wide open space and rural character.
  • Build broad public consensus on an actionable implementation plan for the village and open space protection plan for the town.
  • Develop indicators and a monitoring system to track implementation of the community’s vision and Comprehensive Plan.
  • Explore and share information, resources and models that will work in other Maine communities responding to growth pressures.
  • Foster learning among citizens and town leadership in Maine with a strong public education component.
  • Build agreement around growth management strategies and best practices, leading to more tangible and positive results statewide.
  • Disseminate lessons Learned to a broader planning audience in Maine.

Project Description

GrowSmart Maine initiated the Model Town Community Project to explore tools and processes that can help growing Maine towns proactively shape their futures. The project is intended to mobilize local, state and regional resources, enable local leaders to explore new growth strategies, and engage residents by combining the best elements of New England town meetings with groundbreaking new technologies.

Through a competitive process, GrowSmart Maine selected the Town of Standish as the first Model Town Project community, in part because of its readiness to implement its new Comprehensive Plan, which received state approval in 2006. The plan identified growth areas, transitional and low growth areas, and critical resource areas. The Model Town Project is facilitating citizen-led efforts to translate the values and vision expressed in the Plan into actions that will conserve Standish’s open space, protect its rural character, encourage sound growth, and revitalize the village of Standish Corner. Standish’s Village Implementation Committee and Open Space Committee are leading the charge. The committees held an initial public forum in June of 2008, at which they briefed residents on the planning efforts and facilitated small group discussions. Since then the committees have been working on complementary planning efforts, using CommunityViz, photosimulation, and other new techniques to devise and present alternative scenarios for Standish’s future.

The Village Implementation Committee held a workshop in November, 2008 that presented three village development scenarios for Standish Corner. Alternatives ranged from an existing zoning scenario, which allows for large home lots, “strip” development, and little connection between villages to smaller scale mixed use development zones with distinct village centers. Consultants provided visualizations to illustrate the alternatives, using tools such as Google SketchUp and photosimulation. Workshop attendees discussed the scenarios in small groups and then voted on their preferences using keypad polling; most participants (84 percent) preferred the mixed-used scenarios, with only 13 percent preferring the existing zoning. Future public forums will continue to move the Town toward a preferred village design and project staff expect the Town Council to adopt new ordinances by September, 2009.

At the same time, the Open Space Committee has been developing an Open Space Plan. The Committee is in the process of identifying, mapping and prioritizing a variety of cultural, scenic and natural resources, which will inform protection strategies in an Open Space Plan for the Town. Like the village implementation effort, this Open Space Plan will inform necessary ordinance revisions. The Open Space Plan is expected to be adopted in June 2009.



  • GrowSmart Maine issued an Invitation for Expressions of Interest for the Maine Model Town project; ten towns responded and Standish was selected in May, 2007.
  • Also in May, 2007, project partners formed a Steering Committee with representatives from leading state agencies and NGOS.
  • GrowSmart Maine and the Town of Standish adopted a Work Plan in Fall, 2007. Standish also formed an Open Space Committee to map key resources and compile priority areas.


  • In March, 2008, Standish formed a Village Implementation Committee that has identified big issues facing village development and developed scenarios for village planning.
  • In Spring of 2008, the Standish Economic Development Committee conducted a survey of businesses in Standish.
  • In August, 2008, the Project contracted with Spatial Alternatives [link] and Terrence J. DeWan & Associates [link] to develop photosimulations and a CommunityViz model for the existing zoning and alternative zoning scenarios for Standish Village. The Town hired MRLD Landscape Architecture + Urbanism [link] to fine-tune the Village Master Plan and to draft zoning ordinances.
  • In June, 2008, Standish held a public workshop focusing on open space planning and village planning.
  • In November 2008, the Village Implementation Committee held a public workshop with keypad polling to explore three village design scenarios.
  • In December 2008, a Congress for New Urbanism workshop focused on developing “Traditional Neighborhood Development” (TND) concept plans for two small planning areas within the Standish Corner village center.

Lessons Learned

Embrace the Community's Vision

An actionable Vision Statement plays an essential role in planning. Once developed, a community can and must constantly refer to the vision and use it as a benchmark against which all decisions are made: Does this plan or decision move us closer to or farther away from achieving our vision?

It's All Connected

It’s important to consistently link the goal of preservation of rural character and natural resources to questions about how the town should grow. In Standish’s case, the community is making an explicit link between the Village Planning effort and the Conservation and Open Space Planning efforts.

Build Long-term Support

Planning’s the easy part. It’s the implementation and day-to-day decision-making that makes or breaks the effectiveness of a plan. Too many communities backslide after implementation if support is not broader and results are not informed by a meaningful public process. Most plans result in support a mile wide but an inch deep, but sustained community leadership can help build a constituency for the hard work follows the planning.

An Image is Worth a Thousand Plans

Quality images have an immense power to convey complex planning issues. Images cut through the misunderstandings that verbal or written communication can convey. It is much easier for people to grasp the size of a proposed building when they see a photo of a comparative development than when told the square footage. It is easier to imagine a new streetscape through a photosimulation than through a paragraph describing what it will contain. People ‘get it’ with good images, especially when combined with effective captions.


GrowSmart MaineGrowSmart Maine is a statewide non profit organization established in 2003. Its mission is to help Maine and its communities grow in ways that produce sustainable prosperity while protecting Maine’s quality of life and unique small town, rural character.

Town of Standish, METhe Town of Standish in Cumberland County, Maine includes the villages of Standish Corner, Sebago Lake Village and Steep Falls, and the localities known as Richville, Standish Neck and Two Trails. Standish is governed by a seven member Town Council, assisted by a Town Manager and several boards and commissions.