News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, April 4, 2013
Vote to change Welcome to Castine sign comes under fire
"There’s been quite a flap"

by Anne Berleant

The question of just when Castine became a settled community, and whether life at that time warrants a mention on the Welcome to Castine sign at the junction of routes 166 and 166A again was a subject for discussion when selectmen met on April 1.

At the selectmen’s meeting on March 4, they voted 3-0 to change the sign from “Settled in 1613” to read “Incorporated in 1796,” at the request of the Castine Historical Society.

“There’s been quite a flap going around town,” said Selectmen Chairman Peter Vogell.

In a letter to the selectmen, Aaron and Micky Gast wrote, “We would be disappointed to lose 183 years of history.”

The Gasts’ letter also pointed out that other historical signs in Castine would then be at odds with the changed sign.

“That’s the problem. Once you change one sign…you might as well change all the signs,” said Selectman Gus Basile. He raised Noah Brook’s historical writings on Castine. “The dates go back to 15-whatever,” Basile said.

Town clerk Susan Macomber pointed out that the town seal reads “Settled in 1635, incorporated in 1796.”

“[1796] is when Castine became Castine. It was Penobscot before that,” said Brooke Tenney, an historical society member, who said she would raise the question when the society meets on Monday, April 8.

Castine was not Penobscot before 1796, stated Basile. “It was Majabigwaduce.”

“I don’t think anyone can establish the date as 1613,” said Gordon MacArthur.

The Gasts’ letter suggests a compromise that includes both dates—settlement and incorporation—on the sign.

Selectmen also heard public comments on a new zoning ordinance to be presented to voters at town meeting on June 1. In an effort to avoid any substantive changes, selectmen decided that parking lots will remain under the authority of the CEO in the proposed ordinance.

“It could be a major change, and this isn’t what this ordinance is for,” said Vogell.

If this is so, asked Doug Koos, “then why not put inns and hotels back to the number of rooms” in the current ordinance, which is 15. The proposed ordinance allows a maximum of 24 rooms.

Town Manager Dale Abernethy said that the current definition states “at least” 15 rooms, without capping it at that number.

“It’s controversial because a lot of people see the next step will allow [inns and hotels] in all districts. Everyone thinks [the change] is a slide into getting it into the next revisions,” said Koos.

A special town meeting is planned for August, where voters will decide land use and other major changes to the ordinance in separate articles.

In other business, selectmen named seven people to the new Community and Economic Development committee: Rick Armstrong, Pat Bishop, Jane Irving, Tony Politano, Julie Van der Graaf, Scott Vogell, Mark Sawyer, with Abernethy as an ex officio member. The committee will report to the selectmen, and the current Economic Development Committee, a subcommittee of the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee, will be disbanded this month.

The letters of application to the CED were “the best written ones I’ve ever seen,” from citizens wanting to serve on a committee, said Selectman David Unger.

Finally, Tom “Tip” MacDonald expressed his dismay over plans discussed by selectmen to rent the lighthouse keepers house on a weekly basis.

“I’ve made a considerable investment in my home with the intention to rent it,” said MacDonald. “As a taxpayer and landlord, I’m distressed at the town competing against private owners in summer rentals.”

Selectmen said they plan a one-year rental, and then have voters decide the future at town meeting in 2014.

“The ultimate decision is not [up to] the selectmen, it’s the town,” said Basile.