Coulombe sparks east side dialogue
The Boothbay Harbor Board of Selectmen’s meeting was a full house Tuesday, Oct. 10. Paul Coulombe, owner of Boothbay Harbor Oceanside Resort, made a late request to the board to be able to take the floor toward the end of the meeting to begin dialogue about possible zoning changes in the near future. As a result, the room was packed with filled chairs and many standing in the back of the town office.
The conversation which Coulombe began, along with his associate Dan Bacon from Gorrill Palmer Consulting Engineers, centered around the land between the footbridge and Cap’n Fish’s Waterfront Inn, a portion of Boothbay Harbor in which his latest purchase, The Lobster Dock, rests.
“In looking at these properties, we’d like to explore ‘Okay, how do we make this largely non-conforming area conforming in terms of zoning to enable some reinvestment in these properties and to enable some redevelopment,’” said Bacon.
Changing the zoning within this small space would allow property owners to make changes to the building and grounds depending on how and what the planning board and selectmen decide to change should they choose to do so. Being that this area had been zoned as maritime and water-dependent in the 1980s, many of the businesses are non-conforming. This means that any future investments must ensure that when any type of work or renovations are done to buildings on these properties, they are limited to the same (non-conforming) footprint.
“I guess why I’m up here is because I want to support fishing,” said Coulombe. “I think that’s what makes Boothbay great. I think that our harbor is the best harbor in the state of Maine … I think it’s something that we need to support, that I want to support. We also understand that tourism is really important for all of us, I don’t care if you’re fishing, if you have a gas station or a restaurant or a marina. Whatever the case is, we’re all dependent on tourism in some way, shape, or form and it’s important to recognize that.
“I’m not here to invest in hotels or motels, condos or restaurants, I’m here to invest in the economic revitalization of Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor,” Coulombe continued. “I’m not here to make money. I know some people think I’m really smart and I have some angle where I’m going to make a killing someday, but everything I’ve done has not made any money— at all.”
The concerns poured in — Mary Lee Brown, a former selectman who presided over the current zoning rules when they were put in place, clarified that the town’s concern was mainly building height. A man pointed out that locals are running out of affordable places to dine out. Gary Hall wanted clarification on the idea for condominiums, stating he does not think condominiums will draw more people to the area.
Bruce Engert, former selectman, took offense to the properties being branded as illegal.
“They have become, by today’s standards and codes, ‘legally non-conforming’” said Engert. “That means they can still maintain. They can’t increase their footprint, square footage, or volume, but other than that, they can be maintained, renovated, and operated as they were. What I believe Mr. Coulombe is expressing is that he would like to change all of that … I find great offense in anyone saying that what is here, now, is illegal. It isn’t illegal.”
The board thanked Coulombe and Bacon, as well as the general public for coming out to be part of a larger conversation concerning Boothbay Harbor’s future.
“I think it’s a much more productive process when we can work together with full knowledge as best we can to try and improve the town,” said Chair Wendy Wolf. “I think that’s a goal we share and we don’t always have a consistent alignment on how to get there, but I think as long as we’re talking, that’s the way we’re going to get the right decisions.”
Also Tuesday night, Chris Higgins took the floor to explain the timetable and new traffic patterns for the replacement of the Union Street Pump Station. The information is available on the Boothbay Harbor Sewer District website.
Wolf reminded attendees there will be an education panel on commercial marijuana law enforcement impact on Oct. 24 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Boothbay Harbor Town Office (11 Howard Street). The panel will consist of Police Chief Bob Hasch, Holly Stover, Kate Marone of Healthy Lincoln County and Patricia Rosi, CEO of The Wellness Center of Maine.
“As part of our education about the utilization of marijuana, we try to improve our own knowledge about what it means to have legalized marijuana particularly as a municipal official and what we need to know to prepare ourselves for the advent of commercial marijuana,” said Wolf.
After citing some of the statistics learned at recent meetings and workshops, all of which stressed emergency rooms visits, automobile accidents and the like, Wolf encouraged comment from the room.
“I’m just curious — is there anything positive you guys got for feedback?” asked Darrell Gudroe, consultant at medical marijuana caregiver storefront Pharmer’s Market. “Because all I hear is the negative from you guys.”
“The revenue generation was significant,” said Wolf.
“Health?” said Gudroe. “Any health benefits?”
“There was not anything presented that demonstrated a health benefit,” said Wolf.
“You didn’t look, then,” Gudroe said.
“Marijuana is still a schedule one drug which means that there is no medically approved indication for doctors to prescribe marijuana,” said Wolf. “There’s just not enough data to say that definitively and certainly not enough to take it off from being a schedule one drug right now.”
Mike Mayhew, who identified himself as an East-sider, brought up Jamaica and its notoriety for being a large tourist destination especially for those seeking recreational marijuana.
“Historically, people referred to this town as ‘Booze-bay Harbor.’ It’s not a big stretch!” said Mayhew. “It’s a lot of money, it’s a lot of revenue, typically people drive way too slow, and probably some will want more food, but I think we’re missing a lot of opportunity for a lot of revenue.”
Gudroe agreed, saying the town is perhaps shortsighted in highlighting the negatives and not seeing the potential health benefits “in people consuming marijuana over alcohol (of which) we have a lot of consumption in this town.”
“As I go to meetings, I’m just sharing back what I am hearing from the speakers,” said Wolf. “I am not a marijuana expert.”
“Hearing that statement, I’ll agree that you report back to the town what you hear from meetings and what you took from the meetings … ,” said Gudroe. “Certainly I think that you guys have a very different opinion on marijuana than what I have and I’d like the town to hear all of the sides of it and not just the one side.”