Planning Board holds public hearing Feb. 16 on American Boathouse zoning change
CAMDEN — The Planning Board will hold a public hearing Thursday, Feb. 16 regarding a zoning change that would allow residential use at street level off of Atlantic Avenue in the American Boathouse building.
The meeting begins at 5 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room.
Current zoning in this district requires commercial use at street level. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Camden Coast Real Estate is listing the property for sale at $2.49 million. The building is described as containing 6,817 square feet.
Planning Board discussions on the project to restore the American Boathouse began Nov. 3. Attorney Rendle Jones and landscape architect Stephen Mohr representing potential buyer Cynthia Reed of Camden explained the project involves a complete historic restoration of the building exterior, construction of a residence extending from Atlantic Street towards the harbor side of the building, and boat storage at ground level on the harbor side.
Reed has an option to buy the property, and is offering to invest an estimated $5 million in a restoration of the exterior of the building. Reed is married to John Reed, and is owner of Dillingham Point. John Reed is a former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange and CEO of Citigroup.
Jones and Mohr explained the restoration cost was developed based on work done by Cold Mountain Builders, Prock Marine, structural and marine engineers, and in consultation with the Maine Historical Society. They described the building as in bad shape, deteriorating, and not regularly occupied in the past 10 years.
Mohr explained the foundation is shot, and the entire building shell, which is barely held together, has about 10 to 12 years of life before it starts to fold in.
Mohr said the Reed's interest in the American Boathouse building is based on its Historic Register status, relationship to Harbor Park, and its iconic representation of the harbor. He said the Reeds have engaged in similar preservation projects in other areas.
He said the project involved stabilizing the exterior structure internally, lifting it off its foundation, and a complete foundation replacement. All of the work would replicate the structure that is currently in place, according to Mohr. He said that in talks with the Department of Marine Resources, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corp of Engineers the concept received a favorable reception.
Harbor Business District
The stated purpose of Camden's Harbor Business District is "to preserve and maintain for the citizens of Camden the character of Camden Harbor, including its scenic value and views from the land, its accessibility to the public, and its economic value for functionally water dependent uses." The harbor side of Atlantic Avenue is in the Harbor Business District, where zoning requires commercial use at street level, and only allows residential use on the second floor.
At the outset of discussions, Jones contended that it is unlikely that any commercial enterprise would invest in a restoration of the building because they would not be able to recover their costs.
Planning Board Chairman Lowrie Sargent maintained the position that the residents of Camden created the harbor business district to promote marine uses, and that a certain percentage of the building should be retained for that. Sargent said Nov. 3, that the Planning Board is "very sensitive to losing potential commercial space to residential uses."
On Nov. 17, Sargent called for additional language in any ordinance change to limit unintended consequences. He asked for a solution that would prevent the entire building from being turned into a condominium after the Reeds sell the building or pass it on. He asked for language that would limit the percentage of interior residential space and reserve the remainder for "accessory residential water dependent use."
On Dec. 1, Planning Board members continued to debate how much residential space should be allowed and how much space should be used to maintain boat storage.
Board member Mark Siegenthaler expressed concern that allowing the American Boathouse to become a residential property, would not maintain the historic portion of the building.
Board member John Scholtz called for latitude in allowing the residential change. He said the town is not going to see a marine hardware store or another yacht broker in the building. He said he has heard that at least five commercial clients "have looked at the structure over the past decade or so, and each has tried to make the numbers work, and it just doesn't work and they've all walked."
Planning Board discussions on Nov. 17, Dec. 9 and Jan. 6 explored the percentage of residential space that should be allowed in the renovation. On Jan. 6, the Planning Board voted to not restrict the amount of residential space to a percentage, and accepted that the residential space would extend from the entrance on Atlantic Avenue toward the harbor side of the building. Storage of the Reed's boat would be located at ground level on the harbor side of the building, where an old marine railway still exists.
Proposed zoning change
The zoning amendment to the Harbor Business District is written so that the only building to be exempted from the commercial use requirement at street level, will be "structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places if they were listed on the Register on June 13, 2017, the date of the creation of this subsection c." Currently, the only building that meets this description is the American Boathouse. If the zoning change is endorsed by the Planning Board and Select Board, it would go to a public vote in June.
American Boathouse history
Though the American Boathouse is a grey weathered shingle building with a large green door on the harbor side, it is sometimes referred to as one of the "red sheds."
A diorama of Camden Harbor circa 1920, located at the Camden Public Library, shows three red sheds at the head of Camden's harbor. The buildings in the diorama are described in an accompanying pamphlet. Referring to "three large boat sheds at the head of the harbor," the pamphlet explains, "the small red shed on the western side is currently known as the Borland Building or American Boathouse."
The National Register of Historic Places listing states that the American Boathouse was built in 1904, and was used to house Chauncy B. Borland's 130-foot yacht, Maunaloa. The nomination form describes the building as "one of the oldest if not the oldest recreational boathouses in Maine and possibly the country," and as evocative "of Maine as a playground of the very rich at the turn of the century — an era of massive yachts and opulence and ostentation. Borland's position in the social milieu is evidenced by the fact that he become the first Commodore of the Camden Yacht Club in 1912."
A short history of the red sheds is provided in the "The Future of Camden's Working Waterfront," a 2007 report issued by the Island Institute, around the time Wayfarer Marine proposed and then later failed to obtain public support for a zoning change to allow it to build condominiums on the Bean Yard (former Robert Bean Ship Yard). According to the report, in 1902 the Charleton Henry family established the Camden Yacht and Marine Railway Company, where Lyman-Morse at Wayfarer Marine is now located, which was a service and repair yard for "increasingly large and exquisite yachts that were attracted to Camden and Rockport harbors. A total of approximately seven Red Sheds were built at the head of the harbor early in the 20th Century to provide winter storage for the most storied of these yachts. Only two sheds remain."
Courier Publications reporter Susan Mustapich can be reached at 236-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.