Voters rejected a 180-day moratorium on placing moorings in inland waterways Dec. 18, while expressing support for tackling the problem of proliferating moorings on Lake Megunticook.

The vote occurred at a special town meeting attended by 25 registered voters. Voters also approved an $870,000 lease-purchase agreement that will add 150 public parking spaces to downtown Camden, and the creation of a Charter Commission to recommend revisions for a new municipal charter.

Moratorium defeat

The proposed moratorium was intended to address concerns about the growing number of moorings on Lake Megunticook in the area of two public boat launches and the public Barrett's Cove swimming beach. There are no local ordinances to regulate moorings on inland waterways, including the lake, Megunticook River and Hosmer Pond. The 180-day pause on installing new moorings was intended to give the town time to develop an ordinance. The town of Lincolnville, which also borders on the lake, passed a 180-day moratorium on installing new moorings in September.

Discussions on the proposed moratorium took place in Camden over the past few months. A number of residents spoke in support of the temporary moratorium at two public hearings on the issue. The board of directors of the Megunticook Watershed Association, represented by Executive Director Paul Leeper, made it clear they supported the moratorium.

While the majority of Select Board members were in favor of sending the decision to voters, Chairman Bob Falciani maintained that any moratorium would be unenforceable, because existing moorings have not been documented. Board member Alison McKellar felt the moratorium's wording was not clear enough to be effective. Board members generally agreed that voters could amend the wording at the special town meeting if needed.

At the beginning of the special town meeting, there was significant support for the 180-day moratorium, but that support dwindled over an hour's time.

One woman expressed concern that if the moratorium were not passed, people would rush to place new moorings in Lake Megunticook as soon as the ice was out. Her concerns included protecting the cleanliness of the lake and safety around the public boat ramps.

Select Board member Marc Ratner said he supported the moratorium in order to start a needed discussion about the problem of increasing moorings in the lake, which residents brought to the board's attention. He described an inclusive process, where everyone would have input. "This will involve all stakeholders, landowners as well as those who use the lake for recreation purposes," he said.

Leeper, of the Megunticook Watershed Association, reiterated the support of the temporary moratorium by the association's board of directors. He said the board felt the moratorium was a good mechanism to develop rules that would maintain safety and protect the environment and value of shorefront property.

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell clarified that while the state limits local regulations on inland waterways, "a state statute on great ponds gives towns the ability to put limited regulations in place around inland harbors." She informed residents that any moratorium or eventual ordinance would not be actively enforced by the town, but that enforcement would be on the basis of complaints that a mooring was in violation.

Peter Gross opposed the moratorium, saying that language in the measure and other articles placed before voters at the meeting was too broad, and would cause unintended consequences. "This would limit my family from putting in a mooring and a swim float [in Hosmer Pond], which they've been doing for 80 years. I don't think you intended this. I think the language should be modified this evening, or that we should all vote against it," he said. He pointed out that the moratorium would affect the property owners around Hosmer Pond, not just his family.

Gross asked board members to define two key terms in the proposed moratorium, "inland waterways" and "new moorings." He pointed out that the timeframe placed an inland waterway ordinance before voters in June, which would require that the ordinance be completed in April. He said as a former Select Board chairman, he was skeptical that this could be done in that amount of time.

Numerous voters made attempts to amend the moratorium language, including Select Board members McKellar and Ratner, and residents Geoff Scott and Etienne Perret. Ultimately, elected moderator Deb Dodge determined that various amendments were substantive changes to the moratorium language advertised to the public, and were not allowed. In a vote of 18 to 3 against the measure, the majority ultimately decided the moratorium was not written properly and needed more work

Falciani promised that the Select Board would quickly appoint a committee to work on the issue, with a goal of preparing an inland waterway ordinance for a public vote in the future. "The real objective is to define what the problems are and to make recommendations to the Select Board," he said.  "A committee could do this."

Public Parking

Voters approved the purchase by the town of two parking lots currently owned by Knox Mill Holdings LLC, which will add 150 parking spaces in downtown Camden. A lease-purchase mechanism will be used to buy the lots, at a cost of $5,000 per month for 174 months, for a total of $870,000.

Caler-Bell explained that the lease-purchase will be paid for with TIF funds, which are specifically targeted for downtown improvements. The plan was discussed with the Budget Committee this year, she said. At the polls in November, voters approved a zoning change that eliminated a requirement that the Knox Mill and Bella Point assisted living facility set aside two parking spaces for each living unit. This zoning change freed up the spaces in the smaller parking lot at 4 Knowlton St., next to the Teen Center, and the back portion of the large parking lot behind the Knox Mill complex.

Alden Street residents expressed concern about the use of the parking lots, including tour buses idling their engines and the problem of people camping there. Caler-Bell said the town will draw up rules for the parking lot, as well as a maintenance plan. She said camping is not allowed in any public parking area in Camden. She assured residents that public ownership of the parking lots is preferable, because the town has less control over the use of the lots when they are privately owned.

Residents also expressed support for buying the valuable downtown property, and for the development of public parking at 4 Knowlton St. to serve as the trailhead for the River Walk.

Charter Commission

Voters approved the creation of a Charter Commission that will recommend revisions to the municipal charter. Former Select Board member John French brought the issue to the board's attention earlier this year. He has been keeping track of numerous amendments made to the town charter over the past few years, and sees the need for a full revision.

Caler-Bell said the work of revising the town charter is a two-year commitment. The Select Board will appoint three members to the commission and the remainder of the members will be elected by registered voters.