COLUMBIA FALLS, Maine — Things are on a pause, both sides say, for the Flagpole of Freedom, proposed by the family behind Worcester Wreath Company.
The billion-dollar project to honor veterans has been a dream of Morrill Worcester for more than a decade, but it raised a lot of questions when the massive park was proposed inside the small town of Columbia Falls.
Now the town and the company behind the flagpole are thinking about their next steps.
"This project is unprecedented in every manner, from its size to its location to its scope," Aga Dixon said.
Dixon is special counsel for the town of Columbia Falls, which hired a team of attorneys and investigators to help them navigate the park proposal.
The Worcesters are promising a spread, starting with a flagpole that would stand taller than the Empire State Building, walls of memorials for some 24 million veterans, concert space, and an arena for millions of guests, all to be built and operated by about 9,000 people.
Much of it to be built within Columbia Falls over the next 10 years.
"Given the size of the town and its location, you won’t be surprised to know that the regulations are pretty sparse," Dixon said. "The town of Columbia Falls does not have zoning. It does not have a site plan review ordinance. It doesn’t even have a building permit ordinance."
Earlier this year, the Maine legislature approved a plan to annex roughly 10,000 acres in unorganized territories owned by the Worcesters, a move that would make that piece of property all part of the town of Columbia Falls. It would also make Columbia Falls the overseers of any building regulations for the park, instead of the state’s Land Use Planning Commission.
Columbia Falls voters still need to approve that annexation.
"Over the last couple of years, the Worcesters have hired a number of professionals to figure out [the following questions]: Will this concept work from an engineering perspective? What’s it going to look like on the ground? Where does it need to go in terms of location? ... and so forth," Tim Pease said.
Pease is the attorney representing the Worcesters.
"Once they got to that stage, they realized it really needs to go in Columbia Falls, which is where the bulk of their land is," Pease continued.
NEWS CENTER Maine spoke with the Worcesters in April. Their plan at the time was to make the project entirely for-profit.
"It doesn’t really fit the mold to be a non-profit," Rob Worcester said, saying there were already so many non-profits supporting veterans. "But that’s a benefit because we can take a portion of our profits and share with those veteran causes."
While that was the initial concept, Pease said the Worcesters have been doing a lot of listening over the past few months. He said they’ve had the support of many veterans' groups that would prefer to back a nonprofit. What that looks like, they haven’t decided yet, which has brought them to a pause while a team reconfigures the plans.
Meanwhile, the town of Columbia Falls has called for a moratorium of their own pause to piece things together.
"Right now it’s early days," Dixon said. "We don’t really know much about the project, but we’re looking forward to hearing more and really digging in to find out what the implications are for this small community as well as the surrounding region."
Columbia Falls will have a joint meeting mid-December with the Planning Board and Select Board to learn more about what attorneys on both sides have learned.