News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, March 21, 2013
Castine Selectmen stick to lighthouse plan, hear affordable housing plan

by Sharon Bray

The Board of Selectmen, meeting March 18, debated and decided against second-guessing itself on what to do with the keeper’s house at Dyce Head Light.

Comments from citizens led Selectmen Peter Vogel, Gus Basile and David Unger to rehash the possibility of renting out the house by the week instead of a one-year lease as they had decided at their last meeting.

Castine resident Doug Koos stated objections to leasing town property, comparing the keeper’s house to the library, “to just one individual.” He said townspeople should have more access to the historic building.

Former tenant Nancy Carr abandoned her lease for health reasons, leaving two years of voter permission for selectmen to lease the house.

With time left on the lease, “why not use it?” posed Unger.

Advice from many sources had favored the one-year lease, as the market for summer rentals is described as “soft.” Nonetheless, one local real estate agent had offered to handle weekly rentals with no fee to the town, according to Town Manager Dale Abernethy, who said he got that information from economic development consultant Sue Walsh.

“Weekly might be best,” said Board Chairman Vogel, “but we need to make a move right now.”

After this year, said Abernethy, selectmen could bring the question back to voters about future disposition of the property. He added that he is proceeding with basic repairs and painting in preparation for rental.

Vogel said a question about use of the house after this year could be put to voters at town meeting in June.

Koos also raised the question of how a renter would be selected since a number of people have expressed interest in living in the keeper’s house. He urged selectmen to “draw a name from a hat” after their usual screening of references and ability to pay the anticipated $750 monthly rent.

Selectmen did not respond to Koos’ suggestion.

As part of his campaign to provide more affordable housing in Castine, Koos described a new proposal and asked if it would require changes to the town’s land use ordinance.

Selectmen are scheduled to hold one more public discussion of the proposed ordinance at their April 1 meeting before approving a final version for voters at town meeting.

Koos said he has been in touch with appropriate state agencies and begun work with an engineer on plans for multi-family housing units on his property off-neck. He has already made plans to convert several mobile home sites in his trailer park to single-story modular units. With another 30 plus acres remaining, Koos said he would like to use two acres separate from the park for structures of at least two storeys with more than one housing unit each.

Rental prices, said Koos, would vary in an attempt to attract a variety of renters and avoid a “skewed population” of low-income people.

Such a multi-family housing project would require planning board approval for “contract zoning” that would adjust density requirements for the rural zone where Koos’ land is located.

Koos said he would like to give the planning board an initial proposal without spending the money to engineer a completed application. If he and the board could then agree on a concept, Koos would then prepare the more detailed documents required.

Abernethy said he thinks, but is not certain, the proposed new “baseline” land use ordinance would give the planning board flexibility to deal with Koos’ idea.

Selectmen agreed to hold a work session with Koos to further discuss his proposal.

Resident Pär Kettis raised a different question about the proposed land use ordinance, which he said inadequately addresses or defines “parking lot.”

The ordinance allows the town’s code enforcement officer to issue parking lot permits, but Kettis said the planning board should have a say.

Selectmen and the town manager agreed to a language change so rules and the definition would both describe parking lots that accommodate more than four vehicles, including boats.

“Five or more boats anywhere in town is a big deal,” said Kettis.

Since some people might consider that issue to be “controversial,” selectmen said they would put off action on it until a second round of zoning changes to be addressed over the summer.

In other business, selectmen voted to sign an agreement with the Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium after lengthy discussion (see separate story on page ).

Castine Schoodic Committee chairman Debbie Neve, Wilson Museum Director Patty Hutchins and SISS representative Tilan Langley attended the meeting to present the proposal and to answer questions.

Selectmen also approved Harbor Committee recommendations for the 2013 mooring and dock rules and fees policy and for appendixed guidelines.

They gave Witherle Memorial Library permission to repeat last year’s successful camp-out on the town common.

Selectmen also acknowledged receipt of a letter thanking the town for donation of leftover building materials from renovations to Emerson Hall to Habitat for Humanity.

Abernethy said the contractor did not want the items, which he offered to Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Jimmy Goodson. The organization will sell the doors, windows, toilets, door knobs and other items in its ReStore to help raise money for building affordable houses for families in Hancock County.

The April 1 selectmen’s meeting will be the last one held at 7 p.m. to encourage public input on the proposed land use ordinance, which will be on the warrant for town meeting June 1.

Starting Tuesday, April 16, selectmen’s meetings will revert to 4 p.m. on the first and third Mondays (except to avoid Monday holidays like Patriot’s Day April 15), according to Finance Officer Karen Motycka.