Controversial ramp, float denied again
Tenants Harbor — Two appeals for a controversial ramp and float application on Watts Cove were turned down by the Planning Board Jan. 10.
The saga of Bryce and Gail Molloy’s plan to construct a ramp and float began in July, when the Molloys submitted an application for a seasonal 32-foot ramp and 12-by-20-foot float from the steep waterfront ledges on their Wallston Road property. Complaints from neighbors Matthew and Anne Stern led the Molloys to modify their application to reduce the length by which the float would protrude into Watts Cove, but the application was still denied in August.
A second application, for a shorter ramp and smaller float in a location tucked out of the Sterns’ view, was rejected Oct. 25.
The Molloys appealed both decisions with the help of their attorney, James Katsiaficas, of Portland. Attorney Paul Gibbons, of Camden, represents the Sterns.
The Board of Appeals heard arguments from Katsiaficas and Gibbons at a Dec. 15 hearing, which led the board to send the applications back to the Planning Board upon determining the initial decisions had been made based on a misinterpretation of the town’s shoreland zoning ordinance.
The Planning Board had the issue back on its plate at the Jan. 10 meeting. The board carefully applied each section of the ordinance to each appeal with frequent assistance from the town's attorney, Michael Hodgins. The Molloys, Katsiaficas, Gibbons and around 20 others also attended the meeting.
The board had denied the Molloys’ previous applications under Section 15C5, which applies to piers, docks, wharfs, bridges, "and other structures and uses extending over or beyond the normal high-water line of a water body or within a wetland and shoreline stabilization," and which states: “The facility shall be no longer in dimension than necessary to carry on the activity and be consistent with the surrounding character and uses of the area. A pier, dock or wharf in non-tidal waters shall not be wider than six feet for non-commercial uses.”
The Planning Board had premised its previous rejections of the applications on that section, but provided environmental and wildlife habitat protection as its stated reasons for rejecting the applications, which led the Board of Appeals to determine that the Planning Board had misapplied the ordinance.
Opponents of the applications have said the Watts Cove tidal flat is an important bird habitat, and argued that the facility the Molloys want to build is out of proportion to the proposed uses -- accessing a canoe and inflatable boat.
The St. George Conservation Commission identifies lower Watts Cove as a tidal waterfowl and wading bird habitat, based on Maine Department of Inland Fishers and Wildlife evaluation, and all of the cove as a significant ecological area. Opponents say the Molloys’ proposed project will threaten these areas’ wildlife activity.
The Molloys and their attorney have argued that there have been at least two other floats in the water near their property, that nothing in town ordinances prevents such projects, and that the ramp and float will provide safe water access from the property where safe access does not currently exist.
This time, the Planning Board voted to turn down the Molloys’ appeal on the first application based on the notions that the ramp could be shorter and that any development would disrupt nature-watching activities, in a 3-2 vote; and that such a structure would have an adverse impact on shorebirds, in a 4-1 vote.
The question of whether an application has an “adverse impact on spawning grounds, fish aquatic life, bird or other wildlife habitat” comes from Section 16 of the ordinance. The board addressed this section over an objection from Katsiaficas, who argued the board ought to address only the subject of the appeal – its prior interpretation of Section 15C5.
However, Hodgins recommended the board address Section 16 to avoid leaving open questions in the event of another appeal.
In addressing the appeal for the second application, the proposed ramp was deemed to have complied with the length conditions in Section 15C5 by a 4-1 vote, in a change from the board’s October decision. But it voted that the second application would also have an adverse impact on the bird habitat in the Watts Cove tidal flats in a 4-1 vote, resulting in another denial.
Speaking after the meeting, Molloy said another appeal was “certainly a consideration” after the Planning Board’s denials.
Reporter Dan Otis Smith can be reached at 594-4401 x123 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.