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March 4, 2020

Long-planned House Island campground proposal goes to Portland zoners

Courtesy / Fortland Holdings LLC The southern end of House Island, foreground, which is home to historic Fort Scammel, may become a seasonal campground with 21 tent and yurt sites.
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A plan for a low-impact campground on historic House Island that's been in the works since 2017 goes before the Portland Zoning Board of Appeals Thursday.

The campground, Fortland, would have tent sites and yurts and be on the southern end of the 24-acre island, the site of Fort Scammel. Developers Travis Bullard and Stefan Scarks, of Fortland LLC, are proposing the 21-site development. They need a conditional use permit to develp a campground in the Island Residential 1 zone. If the permit is approved, the planning board has final say on the project.

The developers also must get Department of Health and Human Services approval for the drip-dispersal system for wastewater treatment.

In their request for the conditional use permit, Bullard and Scarks said the plan for Fortland fits well with the IR-1 zoning, which allows campgrounds, but with conditions that include camping sites being 75 feet or more from the perimeter and limits to overall size.

"The purpose of the zone is to provide for low-intensity residential, recreational and rural uses in the less developed areas of the islands in order to preserve the rustic character of the islands, to protect groundwater resources and natural and scenic areas, and to permit only appropriate low intensity development in areas lacking adequate public facilities and services," the request said. "We share the desire and goal of providing low-intensity seasonal recreational and rural uses on previously developed areas of the island."

The campground will provide "a sustainable and environmentally sensitive experience" to guests, developers said. "Preserving the rustic coastal historic and ecologic character of the island, as well as protecting water resources, natural, historic, and scenic areas is critical to the project and at the heart of our design."

The campground would be on 15.8 acres, the large southern portion of the hourglass-shaped island, which is in the channel between South Portland's Spring Point and Peak's Island. Fort Scammel was built in 1808 to protect Portland and its harbor, and was redesigned between 1862 and 1870, the portion that's still on the site today.

Existing structures on the campground site include the 30,000-square-foot granite-and-masonry fort, and 10,000 square feet of granite, brick and masonry tunnels that connect ramparts and bastions to subterranean magazines.

Access to the island is by boat, including water taxi. Casco Bay Lines' Peaks Island ferry goes by the island, but doesn't stop there.

Celebrating history, environment

The plan is for:

  • Construction of three permanent wood-framed accessory structures comprising a 406-square-foot utility and operations shed, a 192-square-foot bathroom shed, a 192-square-foot well pump shed;
  • A 2,850-square-foot community building;
  • Eight structural decks on existing gun foundations, six new semi-permanent yurt structures and two temporary seasonal tents;
  • 15 additional temporary seasonal tents with tent decks set on precast piers that will allow stormwater permeation between the boards;
  • Maintenance of existing roads and paths.

The campground would be open from May to October, and because of seasonal operations and limited footprint, "the proposed project impacts will be substantially less than other year-round allowed uses in the IR-I zone," the use application said. Uses permitted include two to four single-family houses, planned residential unit development, agriculture, boat houses and storehouses for fishing equipment, parking and storage of equipment related to agriculture or commercial fishing.

"The mission of Fortland LLC is to preserve, protect and celebrate this amazing historical and environmental resource," the application said. "Throughout Fortland's design process, great thought and planning has be dedicated to mitigating and reducing physical, environmental and visual impacts. Our goal is to create an immersive and educational camping experience where guests can enjoy an exceptional piece of Maine's rich island history, environment and culture."

Bullard and Scarks first proposed the campground in July 2017. Scarks' father, Michael Scarks, bought the island in 2014 for $3 million, with a plan to build luxury homes on the island. He sold the 12-acre northern section in 2015, and the three houses there have been used as vacation rentals. The current owner is Portland entrepreneur Noah Gordan. 

Since first proposing the campground, Bullard and Scarks said they have worked with local, state and federal regulators for feedback and guidance on project design and development, as well as the city's zoning, planning and public safety staff. The Historic Preservation Board issued a certificate of appropriateness in 2018.

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