A zoning change in Scarborough's Pine Point neighborhood will place a renewed emphasis on marine-related businesses as the town moves forward with a comprehensive development plan six years in the making.
On Sept. 5, the Scarborough Town Council approved updated B-1 zoning along Route 9 from Holly Street to East Grand Avenue and created an overlay district in the former industrial zone.
While outlined in the town's comprehensive plan, the zoning changes were also spurred by a recent boom in marine-related industries in the seaside Pine Point neighborhood and feedback from a series of community meetings, according to Scarborough Town Planner Dan Bacon.
"We wanted that to be able to continue to be a growth industry," says Bacon, recognizing the unique role of the area's only ocean-adjacent industrial zone. "It's really our only waterfront area that is conducive to the marine industry."
To cater to Scarborough's maritime interest, the town invested in a new $800,000 municipal pier last summer to service the 30-odd fishermen who use the pier to load supplies and offload their catch.
"This is an extension of that; it allowed for seafood processing and provides more allowances for industries that zoning hadn't allowed for," says Bacon. "We saw this as something that was really gaining momentum and we wanted to make sure the zoning was enabling these activities."
Local business owners say they appreciate the recognition and the town's willingness to simplify the process of expanding or renovating a business.
"Our area has been here a really long time — our business has been here for 100 years — so nothing is conforming down here," says Susan Bayley, owner of Bayley's Lobster Pound. "Everything you did you needed a variance, but now it's an approved use, so you don't have to constantly go before the board."
Bayley says the change makes area zoning "closer to reality for what exists in Pine Point."
Right now, that reality includes a "handful of seafood processors," including sea urchin, lobster and seaweed processors as well as an oyster farm, according to Bacon.
"I think it's going to work for a lot of people," says Henry Pelletier, owner of a large, mixed-use building on Snow Canning Road that is home to a number of seafood processors. "You'll maybe see a couple other people now who, because of the zoning change, are going to get more involved."
While has no designs on expanding the Snow Canning Road facility, some of Pelletier's tenants have plans for some small-scale expansions.
Within a week of the zoning change's approval, Kelly and Tom Roth, owners of VitaminSea seaweed products, were meeting with the town to discuss the building a greenhouse on their space in Pelletier's facility.
As purveyors of all things seaweed, the Roths produce a range of products such as lawn and garden products, pet supplements and edibles, including a seaweed granola bar.
"Everything we make has seaweed in it or is 100% seaweed," says Kelly Roth.
The proposed 21-by-96-foot greenhouse will allow the Roths to sun-dry seaweed for edible products on site at the Snow Canning Road facility during the warmer months, helping to centralize an operation that is currently spread among Pine Point, the Roth's Buxton home and a farm in Scarborough used to dry seaweed.
"It would make it much easier for us to be in the same spot, and this has helped tremendously. It's a great spot in the middle, plus it has easy access for the occasional tractor-trailer load to the Midwest where [seaweed] is used for cattle and dairy farming," Roth says of the zoning change.
The Roths founded VitaminSea seven years ago. Initially a part-time pursuit for Tom — a commercial fisherman of 20 years who is familiar with the location and variety of Maine's coastal seaweed beds — the company has slowly become the couple's primary venture.
"Thanks to the town, this is now going to be our full-time business," says Kelly Roth, who plans on expanding into a line of seaweed-based personal care products.
The company processes over 100,000 pounds of rockweed each year for the agriculture business and harvests eight distinct varieties of seaweed for use in personal care, edible and supplemental products.
"Seaweed has some great moisturizer and sunblock components and there are so many different [varieties] that do amazing things," she says.
While still a relatively modest venture, the Roths have big hopes for their line of natural products. Before launching their edible products line in January, VitaminSea was posting about $40,000 a year in revenue, according to Kelly Roth. The couple expects to double revenues and are on track to make as much as $100,000 with the addition of edible products.
The company is still a small operation, employing one full- and one part-time employee, but Marketing Director Rod Williams saays he sees great potential for the business in marketing Maine products. And Williams, who also works with Kate's Homemade Butter, would know. Around 30 years ago, Tom's of Maine was one of Williams' first clients, when the founders were still relatively unknown.
VitaminSea, Williams said, "already looks better than Tom's did after two years."
The Roths now hope to expand, hiring out-of-work fishermen to haul in their catch.
"They know the waters so well but are having a hard time finding jobs," she says.
Roth says that Scarborough's commitment to its modest marine industry is a heartening endorsement of its importance.
"I think they've seen over the years how badly Portland has depleted its marine and fishing industries and they realized it's an important business in Scarborough that they need to help as much as they can," says Roth.