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December 31, 2018

Boothbay Harbor waterfront zoning proposal could spark development

Courtesy / Maine Preservation
Courtesy / Maine Preservation
Boothbay Harbor's working waterfront is included in Maine Preservation's 20th list of Most Endangered Historic Places in Maine, which was released earlier this year. A public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 9 on zoning changes proposed that would protect a working waterfront portion on the east side of the harbor while opening up other parts of the waterfront to development, including the addition of hotels.

Boothbay Harbor residents will consider zoning changes that would protect a working waterfront portion on the east side of the harbor while opening up other parts of the waterfront to development, including the addition of hotels.

"If we lose one or the other, it's not good for the town," said Planning Board Chairman William Hamblen, who spoke of "strong feelings" pro and con during the board's Dec. 12 meeting.

He said the town needs both to encourage investment along the waterfront while still providing protection of areas related to the commercial fishing industry.

Proposed new uses and setback and height requirements along the east side maritime zone of Boothbay Harbor's waterfront have sparked debate as residents continue to balance the potential for economic development with preservation of working waterfront.

The proposals go to public hearing Jan. 9.

Fundamental to the proposed changes, Hamblen said, is that the town not impede "appropriate, balanced economic development."

"Do you think, with what you're deciding, that we will encourage economic development in this region," Tom Shannon, of Southport, asked the planning board. "That's been my goal all along."

"If this were to pass, if the town people want to see it, it permits more development than you can do right now," Hamblen replied.

"We have not had meaningful development on the east side as far back as anyone can remember," said Planning Board member John Hochstein. He added, "We have not heard of any substantive positive suggestions or recommendations that would address, How do we get more investment into the harbor, and particularly the east side? That doesn't seem to be forthcoming, with the exception of one developer."

Hochstein was referring to local investor and developer Paul Coulombe who, in 2017, expressed interest in purchasing for redevelopment two properties on the east side. His proposal included hotels, restaurants and a new public pier. That proposal sparked the rezoning discussion.

Hochstein continued that the town's zoning to date "has been an inhibiting factor for 30 years" to development that would accommodate increased visitation to the town.

In October, Maine Preservation, on its blog, cited Boothbay Harbor as a prime example of the need for the state to protect historic working waterfront as "critical to Maine's future economy and to our cultural history," the post said. Boothbay Harbor's east side Maritime District was established 30 years ago and comprises less than 1% of the land area in the town, yet houses three of the four wholesale and retail lobstering businesses serving more than 60 lobstermen. The rezoning proposal would transform 77% of the maritime district into a Limited Commercial District, allowing for hotels, recreational marinas and housing.

What the zoning proposal calls for

According to town documents, the zoning proposal will:

  • Re-define the existing Maritime/Water Dependent District into two maritime districts: a Limited Commercial/Maritime District and a Working Waterfront District. It sets aside the current working waterfront (about 23% of the existing district) to protect and promote traditional working waterfront activities. The remaining area will, in addition to the current marine uses, permit limited commercial activity, most notably hotels and inns, in order to foster increased economic development for the region.
  • All uses permitted in the current district will continue in the Working Waterfront District, except micro breweries.
  • All uses permitted in the current district will continue in the Limited Commercial/Maritime District, and limited new commercial uses, like motels, hotels and inns, will be added.
  • In the Limited Commercial/Maritime District, significant new developments on lots with 100 feet or more of frontage on Atlantic Avenue must maintain a view corridor, at least 20 feet wide, from Atlantic Avenue to the water. This is expected to maintain the visual connection to the waterfront that exists today and prevent development that results in an impenetrable "wall" of buildings. It will be limited to those lots big enough to maintain a view corridor without an undue hardship on development. "Significant developments" are those over 3,000 square feet in floor area.
  • In the Limited Commercial/Maritime District new residential uses will be limited to upper floor locations above commercial uses. In the Working Waterfront District new residential uses will not be permitted. Existing residences in either district may continue and may be expanded.
  • In both Maritime Districts, a high-water setback of 75 feet will be required for all new construction except "functionally water-dependent" uses, which will continue to have a zero-foot setback.
  • New construction heights of 35 feet or 2 1/2 stories will be allowed, compared with the current 30 feet. This is expected to make affordable housing development more attractive to developers.

Working waterfront preservation is on the docket of the State of Maine Land for Maine's Future Program, whose board on Nov. 30 issued a call for proposals for Working Waterfront Access Protection Program projects. The board will make awards up to approximately $2 million from Land for Maine's Future bond funds, according to a news release. The program provides funds to protect and secure commercial fishing access in Maine.

The Working Waterfront Access Protection Program requires future development of funded property retain its use for commercial fishing and closely related activities. The program to date has assisted in the preservation of 54 water access sites and 24 commercial working waterfront properties.

Applicants are encouraged to submit a letter of intent by Jan. 4. Proposals must be submitted to Matthew Nixon at the Maine Coastal Program, ME DMR, 21 SHS, 32 Blossom Lane, Augusts, ME 04333-0022 by March 22, at 5 p.m. EST. Proposals received after this day and time will not be considered.

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