Floating structures ordinance in the works

ELLSWORTH — Councilors on Sept. 20 approved “authorizing city staff to develop an ordinance that restricts the overnight mooring/anchoring of boats, floats, houseboats or other floating structures to landowners and/or individuals who have received written permission from a landowner.”

The approval is only to develop an ordinance. If the council moves forward with it, a public hearing or workshops would be held before any council vote on an ordinance, Chairman Dale Hamilton said. He noted after the meeting that the community, too, can propose an ordinance, or propose the rescinding of an ordinance. In that case, it would be decided by public, not council, vote.

The vote was 5-2, with councilors Michelle Kaplan and Gene Lyons voting “nay.” Public comments mostly came from Green Lake residents who requested council action on the issue. But the two owners of a “house float” that has received scrutiny for its days-long stays on Green Lake, Terry Pinkham and Jason Spinney, also were present.

“We’ve been here before,” Pinkham said wearily. “We’ve all done this. Specifically, it’s me we’re really talking about.”

The continuing issue prompted Hamilton to warn the public to direct all comments to the council, which he reiterated when Dedham resident Dale Jellison, who lives on Green Lake, asked for an audience show of hands in support of an ordinance.

Hamilton held, as he did at earlier council meetings and workshops on the issue, that the goal of an ordinance is to strike a “delicate balance” between public use of the lake and the rights of lakeside property owners “paying a lot of taxes.”

There are no property rights beyond the mean high-water mark for waterfront properties, according to Maine law. Yet towns with a similar problem, like Rangeley, have adopted local ordinances to allow boats and floats to moor in front of private property only with written permission. Green Lake resident Andrew Hamilton recommended that ordinance to the council as “easy to enforce, straightforward.”

But the ordinance the city proposes developing would only limit overnight stays, leading Lyons to warn that next summer 20 boats will moor in front of Green Lake properties every weekend day if the city passes a prohibitive ordinance.

“I’m not going to say it’s going to happen, but I can see that it could happen,” Lyons said, adding, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Councilors also debated a request by City Assessor Larry Gardner to appeal a decision by the city Board of Appeals. The local board had granted a $2 million abatement for 2020 to Maine Coast Mall. But the mall, having been granted the same abatement in 2019, wanted a higher abatement and appealed that decision to the State Property Tax Review Board, which has yet to rule.

Gardner said that to ensure his legal standing to represent the city at the State Property Tax Review Bard, he needed the City Council’s permission to appeal.

Councilor John Phillips twice asked Gardner whether there was any chance he was incorrect in his original assessment. Gardner said yes, but that the mall wanted the state to grant significantly more than a $2 million abatement for 2019, which had already resulted in $40,000 less taxation the city received.

Gardner said the appeal would “basically protect the finances of the city until this is heard at the State Property Tax Review Board.” After a back-and-forth among councilors and Gardner, the measure was approved 5-2, with Phillips and Lyons voting against it.

The council also unanimously approved an easement to Frenchman Bay Conservancy for a portion of the Union River trail behind the library. The conservancy will improve and maintain the trail with grant funds, Executive Director Aaron Dority said, and elver fishermen will continue to have access to the river.

“That’s definitely a trail that needs improvement,” Chairman Hamilton noted.

Anne Berleant

Anne Berleant

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking local trails, reading or watching professional tennis. Email her at [email protected]

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