Town of Boothbay Harbor

Planning board draws huge crowd, positive for change

Posted:  Friday, December 15, 2017 - 10:30am
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Continued talks about the marine and water-dependent zoning on the east side of Boothbay Harbor drew about 130 people to the planning board meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 13. The crowd, packing into the fire station rather than the town office, heavily favored a change in zoning as the district spans from the footbridge to Carousel Marina and restricts non-conforming food and hospitality businesses.

According to the planning board, zoning ordinances have been a subject for review since the summer. However, local investor Paul Coulombe has made the issue of zoning a popular one. With properties on the east side in his sights, investment depends on the legal usage of the properties; and being nonconforming structures, renovation and building are off the table.

Since mid-November when Coulombe announced he was backing out of purchase-and-sale agreements on two properties, Julie Roberts, owner of Coastal Maine Popcorn, has been rallying residents to join a new group called “People for Positive Change.” The group has over 200 members and though not everyone agrees how change should come about, they agree change is necessary, said Roberts.

Melissa Neel, Coulombe’s vice president of operations, Rick Shenay of Drummond Woodsum Law, and Dan Bacon of Gorrill Palmer Consulting Engineers represented Coulombe, who could not attend.

Coulombe’s team presented a short message of intent listing basic “high level goals” Coulombe would like to see in the east side zoning.

“We advocate for more of a mixed use allowance that would allow hotels, motels, and inns that already currently exist, to allow for potentially some multi-family housing,” said Bacon.

Board Chair Tom Churchill announced the board would be forming a special work group to review the marine and water-dependent zone for changes that would make the nonconforming businesses conforming. The group will have one or two planning board members including Vice Chair Bill Hamblen; Code Enforcement Officer Geoff Smith;  a selectman; Lincoln County Planner Bob Faunce; Bacon; and east side representatives Tim Brown and Jeanne Fuller.

“That work group will go through the process of looking at the existing zone, coming up with recommendations to modify that zone – maybe eliminate it, maybe keep it just as it is ... I can assure you that through that process, there will be many opportunities for everyone in town meetings like this to express their view on how that process is going and what the end result is going to be.”

Hamblen spoke about the planning board wanting to see the “best possible public access” coming out of any and all changes to the zoning on the east side of the harbor. He said the board prioritizes the protection of marine and water-dependent uses as well as giving existing businesses the right to “renovate, relocate, and build.” As secondary goals, Hamblen outlined the improvement of access and safety on Atlantic Avenue, improvement of storm water management, resistance to extreme weather in future construction, the reduction of structure setbacks from the road and the increase of setbacks to water, and linking public access to abutting properties.

Changes the board considers will be based on the town’s 2015 comprehensive plan as well as public input and application history, said Hamblen. The board will have one or more public hearings depending on revisions and then the select board will review the recommendations and either accept them and establish a warrant to be voted on, send them back to be reviewed or changed, or throw them out altogether. A warrant created by the select board would go to the annual town meeting or a special election.

“Members of the public are encouraged if available to come to these meetings and observe and although these are not intended to be public hearings, they are intended to be working sessions where (we) will sit around a table and have a discussion. It’s hard to imagine that we wouldn’t go out for comments in the last 10 or 15 minutes,” said Hamblen.

Faunce spoke on the history of the harbor and the zoning which led up to today’s permitted uses. As he outlined out the zoning on a slide he presented, he brought the audience’s attention to businesses such as Cap’n Fish’s, Lobster Dock, and Oceanside.

“They’re not supposed to be there,” Faunce said.

Faunce then referred to passages from the 2015 comprehensive plan which outlines how the town would like to see changes in the local economy, the community, and land use and the strategies to make those changes. He comparing, item by item, the town’s goals, Coulombe’s goals, and the Lincoln County Planning Commission’s goals, concluding that all three align.

“I think what this shows is that there is alignment in a lot of Paul’s goals and the planning board’s goals … I’m looking forward to the process to see if we can do what needs to be done because the east side of the harbor can’t stay as it is,” said Faunce. “There has to be some growth.”

Over 20 people spoke over the next hour. Most aired their support for change on the east side of the harbor. Carousel Marina former owner Norm Pierce was among the few voices expressing little optimism.

“There’s a lot about the east side of the harbor Paul Coulombe doesn’t understand … This drawing put me out of business,” said Pierce, holding up the full page ad from Issue 48 of the Boothbay Register.

Pierce said, in the conceptual drawing, for lobstermen and sailors to access the docks for seasonal work on boats and gear, they would have to walk through the lobby of the proposed building. “I’m not negative for change,” said Pierce. “I’m just saying it’s got to be done and done right.”

Pierce added in a phone interview Friday, “And if you look at the docks in the drawing, one has greenery and the other has a swimming pool.”

Douglas Carter spoke about his background in fishing and the town, since the early 1960s. He cited his various business dealings and involvement in the lobster industry over the years to address the audience as an expert on the well-being of fishing and fishermen.

“I’m here to tell you I know more about the fishermen and lobstering and what’s good for the fishermen than anybody in Boothbay Harbor,” Carter said. “Paul Coulombe is interested in what happens to the fishermen. He sticks up for the fishermen, he does want them to exist.”

As the discussion came to a close, Churchill reiterated some of the goals and realities of changing zoning and ordinances.

“The devil is, as they say, in the details and it will be a long road to an ordinance that everybody likes. Whatever the end result is I am sure is going to be better than what we have today.”

In a phone interview Dec. 14, Julie Roberts said she was pleased that most of the people in the room were receptive to the idea of change.

“It’s so important for us all to work together … I think it went well,” said Roberts. “I just felt like I needed to speak my mind – it felt very good to do that.”

In a phone interview, also Dec. 14, Coulombe said he received numerous positive emails, calls and texts following the meeting. He said he believes the planning board will move forward expeditiously and that board members understand how much the businesses in the marine and water-dependent zone need reinvestment.

“It was nice to see everyone be so vocal,” said Coulombe. “I think the real winner is Boothbay Harbor. And people being more vocal, people who normally wouldn’t come out to these meetings, is a big indication of that.”

The new work group will meet for the first time on Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m.

The planning board meets next on Wednesday, Jan. 10 at 7 p.m.