News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, June 9, 2022
Rental of lighthouse residence examined
No decision on lease renewal yet

by David Avery

On Monday afternoon, June 6, the select board opted to table any decision on renewing the lease agreement with the current tenant of the lighthouse keeper’s house. The reason given was that only two of three board members were present.

Member Colin Powell was unable to attend, so Gordon MacArthur made the motion to table any action on the lease. Peter Vogell concurred.

In other discussion during the public comments section of the meeting, Fire Chief Randy Stearns said that the town has been setting aside money to clean up and maintain the backshore saltwater pond for years, most recently $6,800, in article 37 at Town Meeting in May.

He expressed concern that passing Article 55, which changed the designation of the account from Backshore Pond Capital Account to Backshore Recreation Capital Account, would allow the money already in the account, about $18,000, to be spent on trash compactors or paving rather than on the pond.

MacArthur asked if the pond had been maintained and cleaned up this year. There is still more to be done, said Stearns.

Town Manager Shawn Blodgett said his intent in changing the name of the account was to give the town flexibility. “I’m not trying to wave that intent [pool maintenance] away,” he said.

The lighthouse keeper’s house is owned by the town and has been leased to the same resident for about nine years, Vogell said at the meeting.

There are two important considerations in renting the property, Vogell said. The first is that the rent received must pay for the upkeep of the building.

Second, he said, the tenant must be an ambassador for the town, which might be trying sometimes because the property often has tourists wandering through the yard.

He concluded that both conditions have been met, and he seemed in favor of renewing the lease for current tenant Tracy Lameyer.

Not all members of the public who spoke supported renewing the lease for Lameyer.

Local real estate agent and resident Pat Bishop appealed to the board to “take emotions out of it and treat it [the rental] like a business.” Other people could be interested, too, she said.

It could also be an economic boon to the town, she said, and any new lease could stipulate the ambassador role.

Bishop also asked what the requirements for the lease are. Peter Vogell responded that there is an eight-page lease that tenants sign.

Bishop claimed that “people want a change.” She also said the the way the rental is handled “is so not right.”

Blodgett described the issue as the known versus the unknown. The current tenant is a good tenant and is a good ambassador, he said. And a new tenant may be neither.

Local resident Liz Parish said that “plenty of people can be good ambassadors.”

She made the case that others might need the more affordable housing that the keeper’s house represents, people like new teachers or town employees, or church or museum employees.

“Give somebody else the chance Tracy had years ago,” she said.

She also emphasized that it is not about Lameyer as a tenant, but about what is best for the town.

Others asked if subletting or online bed and breakfast type rentals would be allowed. Blodgett said, no, the lease prohibits such practices.

Resident Susan Loomis asked about the process used for determining the rent and how often is it reviewed.

Blodgett described how he came up with the recommended $1,200 per month plus utilities by using federal and state guidelines, as well as local market rates.

The $1,200 figure is an increase over the current charge of about $923 plus utilities.

Loomis also asked if there is a mission statement about renting the property, but no one could remember such a statement.

Lameyer spoke and said that she appreciates everyone’s comments and that she wants her 13-year-old to grow up here, which a renewed three-year lease would allow.

Vogell recounted how, in the past, companies have offered the town $100,000 for a 20-year lease so they could manage seasonal rentals and, presumably, make a profit. The town refused each time, he said.

“The way we’re doing it right now is best for the town,” Vogell offered.

MacArthur said that he had not heard any good arguments against renewing the lease with the current tennant. “Why would we ask her to move?” he said.

He then made the motion to table any decision until Powell could make his thoughts on the matter known. The motion carried.

Other business

In other board news, the town manager reported that paving and drainage work on Perkins and Pleasant streets continues.

The historic signs have been erected around town, Blodgett said. Now public works is replacing the road signs that were damaged or stolen over the winter, he reported.

Striping of the town’s roads is mostly complete, he said.

He also reported an outline of events for Castine’s Independence Day celebration on the fourth of July. A parade will take place at 10 a.m., followed by activities on the town common, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The town band and other music will also be part of the celebration, with fireworks after dark.

Blodgett appealed for volunteers to make the day happen.

There was some discussion about why the town could not provide fire truck rides for children. “Times have changed,” he said. Doing so would present “significant liability issues,” for which the town is not insured. No viable work-arounds were found during his discussions with the Maine Municipal Association, Blodgett reported.

During public comments, resident Helen Miller joined the meeting by remote connection and offered her opinion on the town increasing revenue.

“Everybody talks about expenses. Nobody talks about revenue,” she said. “I believe it is being lost every day.”

Miller talked about revenue from the harbor and docking and mooring fees and from the backshore beach, where not just Castine residents recreate.

Addressing the board, she said, “Stop penny pinching the way you are,” adding that, “we could look creatively to bring in revenue.”

Brook Tenney inquired about the site selection for the new fire station. “Where are we with that?” she asked.

Blodgett responded by saying that they are still a few weeks out from a report by Port City Architecture, the firm doing the analysis.

Warrant approvals

In other action, the board approved general warrants and water warrants totaling more than $59,000.

The board also appointed Jessica Simmons and Sara Kneisel to three-year terms on the Recreation Committee.

Finally, the board approved a special amusements permit for Dennett’s Wharf of Castine which would allow music at the waterfront restaurant.

When asked if there were plans in place to have live music, Cassie Vogel, representing the restaurant, said there are no plans right now, but perhaps later in the summer there could be indoor, quieter acts.

After the meeting, Blodgett sent word that residents could expect noise from the Wilson Museum campus during the 20th Maine encampment. Re-enactors will be on the museum’s shore lot from Friday afternoon, June 17, through mid-day on Sunday, June 19, and will be firing muskets and, perhaps, canons, according to museum Executive Director Julia Gray.