ROCKPORT — Town leaders ran up against a glaring void in Rockport’s inventory of ordinances, rules, and policies — none addresses what uses are allowable at Rockport Marine Park.

Is it OK for the verdant, waterfront home of Andre the Seal to host kayak rentals, boom trucks hauling boats and weddings, but not a pay-as-you-go sauna?

Josh and Beth Goodman’s request for a permit extension for their Native Sauna business at Rockport Marine Park prompted a lager discussion about the need for a town policy on exactly what commercial uses should be allowed at the harbor-side park. Photo by Jack M. Foley

The issue hit like a sudden squall as Select Board members at their Oct. 11 meeting fielded a request from Josh and Beth Goodman of Lincolnville for a five-month extension to their permit to operate Native Sauna at the park.

For a fee, the company offers Finnish-style saunas in a sleek, $75,000 portable rig that is parked facing the harbor and behind the statue of Andre the Seal.

With nary a negative comment, and with the enthusiastic support of Harbormaster Abbie Leonard, the Select Board on Sept. 6 unanimously OK’d a trial period for the venture.

But no sooner had Josh Goodman on Oct. 11 reported great interest from the public than the wind shifted from a sort of Select Board rooting section to the opposite.

It began with comments from member Denise Munger, who was voted back onto the board in an Aug. 30 special election to fill the seat of John Strand, who resigned. In June, then incumbent Munger lost a reelection bid to James Annis.

Munger said of the Native Sauna business, “I have gotten a lot of feedback from a lot of people who are pretty upset. People feel like a park is a park, not a place for business…fundamentally, it goes to how we as a town use our parks.”

It was at that point that Vice Chair Mark Kelley (Chair Michelle Hannan was absent) noted the board had drifted into unchartered territory, and that was part of the problem. “We have not yet developed a policy for use of the park,” he said, adding he would like to see one developed and in place by January.

Town manager Jon Duke concurred. “We need to do some policy work,” he said.

Munger reiterated her feelings. “My concern, based on what I am hearing from residents, is they are not supportive of having a sauna in the park…I have heard more negative comments about the sauna than anything else on the Select Board,” she said.

Other board members who addressed the matter seemed keen on letting the Goodmans know that the issue for them is not specifically about the sauna operation, it is about a public park and what the public expects of its parks. “I am not saying (the sauna) is a bad idea, I am saying these are valid questions,” said Eric Boucher, adding he believes the town “needs to be supporting businesses. Among the issues he noted are liability factors from winter use when there is ice and snow, lower staff levels in winter and just who is in charge. “Is this a harbor or a park and who oversees it? We never made that determination, whose responsibility is that park? He wondered if plowing would make it safer and easier for the Goodmans to operate and for customers.

Munger opined that for the Select Board there is “a higher level” of consideration. “There are bigger concerns than plowing. Residents really want to know we are giving this some thought. This is community space, and we sort of OK’d (the sauna) for two months, that is what I told everybody, it is just a little period of time.”

From the audience, Lynn Rutter requested to be heard. Earlier, she had been appointed as an alternate member of the Parks and Beautification Committee. Rutter said she spent a lot of time at the park during the summer. “The biggest impact is the trucks that transport boats and sit there and idle,” Rutter observed. For someone who spent every day at the part, she added, the Native Sauna operation “didn’t have any negative impact; I think it is a welcome thing.”

Josh and Beth Goodman have been operating Native Sauna since September and say interest level has been high and $5 of each ticket goes back to the town. Photo by Jack M. Foley

Munger noted the town has already restricted the number of park weddings to open it more for residents. She urged her colleagues to “consider what Harbor Park is to our residents. People are not happy about it.” She specifically said she did not want to get the Goodman’s hopes up that they will be able to continue operations at the park via a five-month extension.

That did not happen. Instead, the board opted to extend the temporary permit to Nov. 14 and table the discussion until then. In the meantime, Duke and Parks and Harbor officials will examine the policy options and, apparently, come up with recommendations on how to regulate commercial uses of the park, including what to do about the sauna.

For his part, Josh Goodman later said, “We are quite happy with this, we are OK with what has happened. We have had support, you are going to have the ying and the yang, that’s how it works. “It is a community, and it is a public park. We don’t want to be there just as a business trying to make money; we gave five dollars for every participant back to the community. We have a good business, and we are happy to share it with other places.”

Regardless of their future at the Rockport park, Goodman said he and his wife are in the process of identifying other locations and will “plan some pop-up events” during the winter.