Coulombe, planning board discuss zoning

Posted:  Friday, November 17, 2017 - 1:30pm

The Boothbay Harbor Planning Board on Wednesday, Nov. 15 discussed a zoning initiative for the east side of the harbor. The initiative was brought by Paul Coulombe who owns many waterfront properties on the west side of Atlantic Avenue and wishes to lift the constraints of the working waterfront-oriented zone to allow for extensive updating and reinvestment. Accompanying Coulombe to the workshop were Dan Bacon, planning project manager at Gorrill Palmer, and Rick Shinay, attorney at Drummond Woodsum.

“This evening, we really want to bring up conceptual designs … We want to be able to show you something, in a rendering, so that you can have some sense to what we’re thinking about, (and) we’re suggesting zoning changes or ordinance changes in order to combinate those changes,” said Coulombe.

He said the two properties he has in mind for these objectives are the Lobster Dock and Cap’n Fish’s properties and that intended changes to Boothbay Harbor Oceanside Golf Resort would be within current zoning and ordinance directives. He said he has brought these ideas of changing zoning and ordinances to the table because these properties desperately need updating which can only be achieved if current regulations are changed.

“We’re really open minded,” said Coulombe. “My whole goal, here, is not about building hotels, building multiple family housing or any of that. My goal is to improve the community, create an economic engine for the community … All the things I’ve done (are) all about really making it a better place … It’s about making Boothbay a more economically viable community to attract tourists and to create more jobs. All rising tides float all boats …”

Bacon then went into detail on the goals, concepts, benefits and observations leading to the conclusion that changes in the zoning regulations are necessary.

“The overarching goal is really to update and invest on the east side, to really continue the mixed use of the theme of the east side already which is hotels, it’s restaurants, it’s residential in some areas that’s been compatible with the working waterfront historically and we want to continue in that way and have a zoning act that can enable that and propel that,” said Bacon.

The conceptual plan includes a 30-foot building height limit by right in addition to a 35-foot height limit with the incentive of a 15 percent minimum view corridor.

Board vice chair Bill Hamblen raised concern that allowing taller structures could impede the view of property owners on the east side of Atlantic Avenue. Coulombe said that despite the surveying he and his associates have done to neighboring properties and the fact that some current structures stand at 36 feet, this is something that would be taken into consideration.

Shinay gave his expertise and his purpose on Coulombe’s team.

“Paul has retained me to work with him and his staff and Dan to develop the actual zoning language that would need to be added to the ordinance … Tonight we are hopeful that we’ll leave this meeting (with) some sense that we’re on the right track and that this is worth us continuing to pursue. We don’t mean to presume a process, but we would think that following (a presentation to the select board), Dan and I would start drafting the actual zoning language that would be needed to implement these general concepts.”

Shinay suggested a committee be formed of two or three planning board members, two or three select board members, the code enforcement officer and town attorney, to work with him and Bacon, who would do the initial drafting of the zoning language.

Board member Jon Dunsford raising concern over pedestrian pathways and how foot travel will be managed under the proposed concepts which show multi-family housing sandwiched between two, 500-foot portions of private business.

“My concern, from an urban planning standpoint, is why are you interrupting this thing by putting a bunch of multi-housing right in the middle of it?” 

Coulombe said the proposed sidewalk would be active on the entire west side of Atlantic Avenue. Dunsford said he was not sure how effective that would be, since guests to the region would potentially reach the residential area and turn around not knowing that more private business lies ahead.

Hamblen said the zoning ordinances were put in place years ago to protect the working waterfront and make it easier to open and run marine-oriented businesses. He said he understands that with no changes in waterfront business after all this time, it might follow to “face reality” and open the space up to non-working-waterfront businesses, but that he still hesitates, he said, because it could limit such business in the future should an investor ever come along.

“Do we have enough infrastructure – sewer and water – to support endless numbers of people, asked board member Margaret Perritt.

Coulombe clarified, saying that though he would ideally add rooms to his hotel properties, conceptual designs – including the possible multi-family housing – would not add to the burden of infrastructures like sewer and water because there would be no extra accommodations or housing than what already exists.

Chair Tom Churchill questioned if changing ordinances could potentially give up the working waterfront and cost Boothbay Harbor its competitive edge.

“We don’t need more retired people and empty condominiums, we need more year-round business. Maybe it’s not the most economically viable, but if we can provide 50 to 100 jobs, that’s profound … and I don’t see that in your proposal,” said Churchill.

Churchill also said it would be inappropriate for zoning language to be drafted by anyone but the board, especially interested parties.

Norm Pierce was the first member of the public to take the floor with concerns. He said the overall concept is fine, but that the view corridors are terrible. “You can’t see the waterfront from the street no matter how big of a corridor you make, because you’ve got to pay attention to your driving.”

Pierce also reminded the room that ever since Cap’n Fish’s set concrete, the area has been available to fisherman for gear storage in the winter months. “You’ve taken it away,” said Pierce. “… In a storm, many of the lobster fishermen and other boaters go down there and sit all night watching their boat.”

Selectman Mike Tomko expressed that, as a public official and as a member of the community, the public goals, whatever they may be, should be the primary objective in revisiting or changing any ordinances.

“That’s going to be key for us, to make sure that the public is hugely part of that process … to maximize the opportunities for public space and public access,” said Tomko.

Selectman Denise Griffin aired her concern over Coulombe’s idea of implementing an as yet undetermined percentage of development costs on future projects that would act as investment back into the working waterfront. The conceptual idea would materialize in a zoning ordinance that would apply to all property owners within the zone.

“… The two-and-a-half percent contribution to an investment fund might be a nice idea, it might sound nice … (and) it might be easy enough to come up with for the current developer, but other people who live in those zones and other commercial people who might want to totally redo their building … may not be able to afford that,” said Griffin.

Boothbay Harbor resident Peggy Racicot said her biggest worry is that it is the kind of development suited to the whims of the wealthy.

“It’s for the people with 120-foot yachts and it means some poor person from South Boston isn’t going to get a hotel room up here. It’s going to make it another Camden. It’s going to make it another Kennebunk. Let’s keep Boothbay Harbor – Boothbay Harbor,” said Racicot.

George Haines, abutter between the Lobster Dock and Cap’n Fish’s, said: “We’ve been there since 1929, five generations and we just hope that anything that changes along the waterfront won’t be detrimental to our property, but we understand that changes happen.”

The next opportunity to witness Coulombe’s proposed zoning initiative will be the next select board meeting on Monday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m.

A recording of the Nov. 15 workshop can be viewed on BRCTV’s website.