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Maine old-timers brace for yuppie invasion

This small, coastal town in southern Maine has experienced a boom of sorts in the past few years. Real estate development has increased dramatically, the population is growing, and traffic on the main highway is becoming heavy. Part of the wealth generated by southern New England's expanding economy is reaching Wells and other Maine communities, especially in the southern coastal area. Condominiums, motels, single-family homes, and office buildings are part of the development explosion that has hit the town of Wells and other communities.

``The people that have lived here for a long time, most of them don't care that much for [the development]. But on the other hand, they have to realize that you can't stop progress,`` says Wells Selectman Harry Margeson.

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Employment has been rising in Maine and per capita income has increased by more than 50 percent since 1980. But the nature of jobs is changing. Service-related businesses are growing as traditional industries such as footwear and agriculture shrink.

Despite this welcome boost to the economy, some here are questioning the new growth.

Wells cemetery worker Frank Adams says that now it is getting too crowded and too expensive to live here. Real estate taxes have gone up considerably, the main town highway is overcrowded, and ``things are slanted toward business,'' Mr. Adams complains.

In 1980, Wells residents approved an ordinance to restrict residential building. The law had to be revised last year after the arrival of the ``condotel.''

Considered legally a hotel, a condotel is a group of living units, each sold separately. Investors rent them out while the condotel owner supplies maintenance and advertising. Due to school overcrowding, the condotel may not be open during two winter months each year, according to town regulations.

Wells condotel owner Robert Coughlin, says he will challenge the town regulations in court. ``I don't think there could be an overabundance of hotels and motels in Maine,'' he says.

Whether or not they are wanted, a new crowd of young professionals are streaming into the state and buying land.

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Jobs are abundant in Portland, Maine, a city now experiencing an economic upswing all its own. According to Joe Gray, director of Portland's Planning and Urban Development Department, existing banks, insurance companies, and law firms are growing and adding staff. Unemployment in the Portland metropolitan area is 2.6 percent, the lowest in eight years.

But with growth come new concerns such as highway overcrowding; the loss of state aid as land values increase and local property tax revenues grow, and the overall feeling of a community undergoing change.

A few years ago, says Mr. Gray, the lifestyle in Portland was pretty constant, with declining population and a high unemployment rate. But now, says Gray, people are asking themselves, ``What kind of city do we want to be? What kind of growth do we want?``

The real-estate boom in Maine has caught many areas by surprise. Coping with development has become a major concern, and some towns have resorted to issuing moratoriums. The northern fishing towns of Tremont and Stonington have passed restrictions on development along their harbors until new land-use controls are drawn up.

Some communities, however, are hesitant to use growth-control measures. Longtime residents complain that such limits keep them from building on their land.

Richard Silkman of the Maine State Planning Office says many communities are not prepared to cope with rapid growth and have not considered a growth plan. ``There are gaps in our land-use regulations - gaps that are causing us serious problems,'' he says.

It's not just southern Maine that is being hit by development. According to Mr. Bley, development is slowly reaching into out-of-the-way areas of the state. Land-buying companies have purchased, subdivided, and sold off tracts in northern wilderness areas. Land along inland rivers and lakes is suddenly becoming more desirable.

One of the most trying aspects of the new Maine development boom is the changing nature of the state and how Mainers perceive that change, says Silkman.

The switch from rugged individualism to concern for the community as a whole is creating ``serious conflicts that are going to the heart of what Mainers think of Maine,'' he contends.

Maine, which has lagged behind the rest of New England economically, has a strong desire to lure development, says Silkman. But he questions whether the effects of the Boston-area economic boom are enough to provide the long-erm development that Maine really needs.

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