Lighthouse foundation seeks move to Owls Head Light

Proposed gift shop a sticky point in zoning change request
By George Chappell | Dec 17, 2012
Photo by: George Chappell The former keeper's house at the Owls Head Light could become the headquarters and a museum for the American Lighthouse Foundation. The property is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. The tip of the lighthouse is barely visible thorough the trees behind the keeper's house.

Owls Head — A proposal to convert the former keeper’s house at Owls Head Light into offices and a gift shop for the American Lighthouse Foundation inched along Dec. 12.

Members of the Owls Head Planning Board voted 4-0, with one abstention by Chairman Richard Benner, to schedule a public hearing for changes to the town's shoreland zoning. The hearing will be held Wednesday, Jan. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the community building.

The lighthouse foundation, which has held a license for the light itself for five years, plans to seek a license for offices for the American Lighthouse Foundation, a gift shop and interpretative center, or museum. The group asked the board Dec. 12 to consider adjustments to the town’s Land Use and Shoreland Zoning Ordinances that would allow certain restricted uses on property that is now considered Resource Protection.

"This is a change in the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance," said Benner by phone after the meeting. "The hearing is to decide what will be sent to the voters."

"The change is for a gift shop in the shoreland zoning area," he added.

Benner said he abstained because he has strong feelings against having any commercial enterprise in a Resource Protection area, such as the land between the shore and the lighthouse and keeper's house.

"The American Lighthouse Foundation would be responsible for the upkeep of the building and for the plowing of the road in," said Robert Trapani, executive director of the America Lighthouse Foundation at the meeting. "The Foundation would also pay for the utilities," he said.

He said the Coast Guard would still own the property, and the lighthouse foundation would have a five-year lease.

Townspeople and the state would have to approve the changes before the lighthouse foundation could relocate to the site, said Owls Head Code Enforcement Officer Scott Bickford.

"Right now, they couldn't have a gift shop there," Bickford said.

One of the strategies board members talked about was having contract zoning, or specific zoning for a certain place, but they did not settle on it. That would be one of the things left for discussion at the public hearing, said Bickford.

Planners Dec. 12 were trying to fit the proposal into the guidelines of the Maine Shoreland Zoning Act, which is a document to prevent and control water pollution.

Owls Head is on the verge of having its own zoning ordinance, said Bickford.

The state's Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act, which is governed by the Maine Board of Environmental Protection, requires all municipalities to establish zoning controls in areas within 250 feet of the normal high-water line of any great body of water or river; within 250 feet of the upland edge of a freshwater wetland; or within 75 feet of the normal high-water line of a stream, he said.

The code officer said he doesn't anticipate any problems with residents approving the zoning.

Among the plans is for the lighthouse foundation to make the keeper's house the headquarters for the organization and to vacate its office in downtown Rockland.

The house, which has a closed-in porch and two rooms downstairs, and four rooms on the second floor, was built in 1825 and rebuilt in 1854, as a dwelling for the keeper and his family. The property has an oil house and boathouse as outbuildings.

The 30-foot lighthouse rises behind the house and is connected to the building by a boardwalk. The overall facial plane, including lighthouse and keeper’s house, is 100 feet high.

Historic information at the site provided by the state of Maine tells a story of an image of an owl's head in the rock at the base of the light. According to Native American legend, the image is the source of the name for the town. If one looks closely at the image in rock, one can see the two eyes of an owl. Its beak has eroded away from a space between the eyes.

Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached by phone at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, or by email at


Comments (1)
Posted by: Laurel E Taylor | Dec 17, 2012 23:08

Having lived in the house with my 2 sons and their father for a few years, I would love to see this done. My fondest memories of living in Maine were when we lived there.

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