Local Business

Stimson Boatbuilding shut down

Town of Boothbay cites residential zoning ordinance
Posted:  
Friday, September 21, 2012 - 9:15am
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Local boat builder David Stimson stands in front of his padlocked barn on the River Road. RYAN LEIGHTON/Boothbay Register
Local boat builder David Stimson stands in front of his padlocked barn on the River Road. RYAN LEIGHTON/Boothbay Register

For many years David Stimson built and repaired boats on his family’s property in Boothbay. On August 28 the Town of Boothbay served Stimson with a notice of violation that barred David and his family from continuing to work on their property because his business was not in conformance with the Town of Boothbay’s zoning ordinances.

Stimson’s boatbuilding shop located at 261 River Road was deemed in violation because Boothbay’s zoning ordinances prohibits the manufacturing of boats within a residential area, and Stimson's business is in such an area. Stimson, who claimed he had been building boats on his property since 1981, was unaware that the act of manufacturing boats was illegal in the residential district when he applied for a building permit in 2011. 

According to the town’s ordinances, boatbuilding is identified under commercial fishing activities, (adopted in 2003) which lists “the sale, installation or repair of boats, engines and other equipment commonly used on boats.” It further states “the construction of boats as a principal occupation is a manufacturing use when determining where the use may be conducted.” 

However, Stimson was issued a permit in September of 2011 by the former Boothbay Code Enforcement Officer Geoff Smith to construct a New England style barn in order to provide shelter for a new schooner Stimson planned to build.

The following February, a neighbor complained to the town about the unwanted noise and aesthetics, and noted Stimson’s project should have been subject to planning board review. 

Stimson said at that time, the planning board agreed that the best thing to do would be to work it out on a personal level with the neighbor. “I immediately wrote a letter to the neighbor, telling him the steps we planned to take in order to mitigate his concerns,” Stimson said. “He immediately rebuffed that.” 

The neighbor cited the manufacturing portion of the ordinances that he believed prohibited the Stimsons from building boats. 

In May, Town Manager Jim Chaousis (who was also acted as the deputy code enforcement officer) presented a consent agreement to the Stimson family. 

Chaousis said, “The idea of the consent agreement is that we thought Mr. Stimson was a very reasonable person, who probably got stuck in a violation of code in which he didn’t anticipate, and we were trying to put together some reasonable terms to get him out of violation that would meet both the best interests of the town, and the best interests of Mr. Stimson.” 

The written contract from the town proposed placing time frames for building completion. The agreement stated Stimson would have until June 1, 2013 to finish the steel schooner he was working on and gave him to 2015 to complete the barn. Additional stringent deadlines were also imposed that dealt with cleaning up the unsightly debris on the premises and volunteering to limit the hours of operation, which Stimson complied with, despite his ultimate choice to not sign the contract. 

Instead Stimson hired Portland-based attorney Michael Kaplan. In July, Kaplan wrote a letter to the town's attorney Sally Daggett expressing concern for the lack of clarity and contradictions in the zoning ordinances, and asked the town to agree on a venue to resolving the issues. 

Kaplan cited Section 1.8.3 which stated “the Town should encourage retention expansion and creation of small-scale commercial and industrial enterprise that provide year-round employment by local people by ... (b) permitting commercial and industrial uses in residential areas where the proposed use would meet the performance standards of this Ordinance for the particular location.” 

Kaplan indicated that Section 1.8.3.3 noted “the Town should promote retention of traditional marine-related activities” that included boat building by “allowing marine related activities throughout the community subject to reasonable regulations to minimize adverse impacts on neighboring properties.”

The town’s definition of manufacturing in Section 6 of the ordinance was also brought into question, which defines manufacturing as “the making of goods and articles by hand or machinery, including assembly fabrication, finishing, packaging and processing.” 

Kaplan said the description was an “overly broad and vague definition that would prohibit a knitting circle in somebody’s living room.” 

When asked if the town ordinance lacked a clear intent, Chaousis said, “In this case our definitions are very, very clear. Commercial fishing activity, which isn’t allowed in that area, specifically says that construction of boats as a principal occupation, is a manufacturing use. So you have to classify it as a manufacturing use. It’s exactly what he is doing right now, so it’s clearly not in compliance of the law.” 

Kaplan brought up the issue of Stimson’s activities being grandfathered, which the zoning ordinances appeared to support, because David Stimson had earned a living “as he had done for more than 20 years at the property.” 

Records indicated that Stimson’s former boat building operation located across the street at 282 River Road, although considered the same piece of property, is not considered a continuous piece of land, but two separate lots on the town’s tax maps, and therefore does not qualify as grandfathered use by the town. The notice of violation indicated that Stimson had admitted that he completely ceased boatbuilding at the 282 River Road property, and relocated. 

According to the zoning ordinances, “a nonconforming use cannot be expanded, and a nonconforming use cannot be resumed once it has been discontinued for more than one year.”

“In this case, Mr. Stimson did stop building boats on the location that he was in for much more than a year. The place he is building boats right now, is not the same location,” Chaousis said. 

It is essential to Stimson’s livelihood that his attorney can prove that the property does qualify as grandfathered use, or that manufacturing of boats on Stimson’s property is permitted pending approval by a planning board. 

Currently, the barn sits silent. All work at Stimson’s home has stopped, while his attorney fills out applications for the Board of Appeals. 

Stimson said that “the current ordinances are self-contradictory and unconstitutional,” and with a recent outpouring of community support, he is circulating a petition to have the ordinances changed. He asks anyone who wishes to sign the petition to contact David Stimson at saveourboatshops@gmail.com.