Traditional boat building – an endangered species?
Our family business, Stimson Marine, set up shop on River Road, Boothbay in 1981. Since then, my two sons and I have designed, built and repaired more than 50 traditional vessels from eight to 56 feet long.
Last week, the town of Boothbay shut us down because of a technicality with the way the ordinance is written. We are in a general residential zone, in which manufacturing is prohibited.
The way manufacturing is defined, boat building could be included, and this is the basis of the town's argument that we must stop building boats.
However, there is nothing in the ordinance that specifically prohibits boat building. On the contrary – in section18.104.22.168 the ordinance specifically includes boat building in maritime activities that should be encouraged throughout the community.
It is obvious that the intention of the ordinance is to allow boat building; the only problem comes from the wording in another section in which boat building could be linked to manufacturing, and thereby prohibited.
A year ago in September 2011, the Code Enforcement Officer had issued a permit for us to build a new building in which to build and repair boats.
Then last February a neighbor in the housing development to the north of us complained, insisting that the new shop should have come under planning board review. He then made the manufacturing/boat building connection to the town, conveniently missing or ignoring the part of the ordinance that encourages boat building. At the same time, he brought up issues of aesthetics, noise and environmental concerns.
During an informal meeting with the planning board in March, it was agreed that we would try to work things out on a personal level with the neighbor, who was present. My sincere attempts to do so were rejected by the neighbor; in spite of this, we undertook a comprehensive tidying of the grounds around the shop and took steps to reduce noise levels.
We have always complied with environmental regulations. It should be noted that during the meeting in March, the planning board did not acknowledge any zoning violations by us, and recommended that we work things out personally.
In May, Town Manager and acting CEO Jim Chaousis approached us with a proposed consent agreement that would allow us to complete the two schooners that are currently under construction. There were many restrictions that we didn't like, but we were willing to accept the terms because of one clause that would have allowed a different home business in the building without having to obtain planning board approval.
A week later, Jim called to tell me that the clause to allow the other business had been taken out. With that clause taken away, we could see no point in signing the consent agreement, which would have taken away many rights that landowners normally enjoy without giving anything in return.
In July, my attorney wrote to the town of Boothbay, pointing out the sections of the ordinance that clearly encourage boat building, even in residential areas. He then requested that we agree on a venue for resolving the issue. A month went by with no reply.
Then, incredibly, on August 29 my attorney received an email from the town's attorney Sally Daggett, from which I quote, "Just a heads up that the Code Enforcement Office in Boothbay feels that the best process for getting the underlying land use issues related to the 261 River Road property resolved is for the CEO to issue a Notice of Violation." The same day we received a certified letter from the town, with said Notice of Violation which includes a cease and desist order.
What kind of response is this? And to a long-time citizen who has followed all of the rules, from meeting with the Code Enforcement Officer, obtaining a building permit with his full knowledge of the intended use, complying with all of the town's requests for cleanup, parking, hours of operation, and proactively seeking a solution to the zoning issue.
The only thing we didn't do was to sign an unreasonably restrictive consent agreement. Jim Chaousis has publicly admitted that the town made a mistake in issuing the permit without planning board review. The mistake was not mentioned in the Notice of Violation. The town ought to be accountable for its mistakes, and shouldn't be allowed to get away with such a blatant abuse of authority.
There is something terribly wrong here. Boat building shops have existed in residential areas in Maine for decades, if not centuries. Are we going to allow the imposition of urban and suburban values upon what is left of Maine's rural character? We are appealing the town's decision. During the appeal process, we welcome support from the local community.