Opinion

The American Boat House, Camden Harbor

Posted:  
Monday, March 20, 2017 - 2:15pm
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There have been several recent news stories about the proposed zoning change for The American Boathouse property located on Camden Harbor. In 2015, the potential new owners, John and Cynthia Reed, saw the boathouse with its storied history and recognized that the building was slowing collapsing. They approached us about purchasing it to use as a boathouse for their boat, with some residential accommodations, and preserving this unique piece of architectural history. As the Realtors involved (Nancy Hughes, Camden Coast Real Estate and Terry Sortwell, LandVest Inc.), we have been asked numerous questions about the proposed change and thought that it would be helpful to present the following:

Questions and Answers

Q: Is the property known as The American Boat House on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)?

A: Yes, the property is on the National Register of Historic Places by voluntary agreement between the NRHP and the current owner.

Q: Can physical changes be made to the building while on the National Register of Historic Places?

A: Yes, interior changes can be made to the building while on the NRHP. The exterior needs to remain original in nature unless altered with approval of the NRHP.

Q: Can the property be removed from the National Register of Historic Places?

A: Yes. The NRHP designation is a voluntary agreement. The property owner can remove the property from the Registry at any time. (The potential owners are committed to changing this to ensure that the American Boathouse be preserved and that an agreement with the NRHP become a permanent agreement both for their ownership and for all future owners.)

Q: What are the permitted uses under the National Register of Historic Places?

A: The National Register of Historic Places does not determine the use of the building. The use is governed by town of Camden Zoning Ordinance.

Q: What are the general permitted uses in the Harbor Business Zone?

A: This zone allows for second floor residential and first floor marine related uses among other uses.

Q: What have been the past uses of the American Boat House?

A: The American Boat House was built in the 1904 to be used specifically for private boat storage for Chauncey Borland's steam yacht, the Monaloa. The only business use that is known to have occurred in this building was a yacht building and repair business and a yacht brokerage run by the current owner in the 1980s and 1990s. The building has stood vacant since the departure of that business.

Q: Can the building structure be physically altered under the current Business Harbor Zoning Ordinance?

A: Yes. The building can be remodeled or removed and replaced with a new structure. For example, the ordinance would allow a new steel building with no windows.

Q: Wouldn't the current National Register of Historic Places agreement prevent changes to the exterior? How can the town allow the building to be altered when the NRHP says the exterior must remain the same?

A: The owner would void the agreement with the NRHP and move forward to alter the existing structure or build a new structure that would meet the current building codes and zoning ordinance.

Q: Have there been any investors or business owners interested in purchasing the building.

A: In the past 10 years that the property has been listed for sale, there have been a small number of businesses or business oriented individuals who have looked at the property. The lack of surrounding land required for adequate parking, the proximity to other residential structures, the high property taxes, and the severe degradation of the building along with the cost of renovating the structure for a viable business use have deterred any interested parties.

Q: Why does the potential new owner want to amend the current zoning if they can already have a second-floor residence and change the exterior?

A: The potential new owners would like to preserve the exterior of structure as original. Based on the constraints of the building and the restraints of the current ordinance they are requesting the amendment to allow for first floor residential use.

Q: Why should we make this change to the Harbor Business Zone?

A: The American Boathouse is one of the oldest original saltwater boathouses in the country. The structure is rapidly deteriorating as evidenced by the large holes on the roof on the southern end. Engineering studies have determined that the building is structurally unsound. The potential owners would like to preserve this historic structure and are willing to commit the resources required and commit to permanently preserving the building to meet the requirements of the National Register of Historic Places. The question becomes: "Do you want to see the American Boathouse preserved as the continued backdrop to Harbor Park and Camden Harbor or do you want to stand back and see the building continue to deteriorate and perhaps be replaced by a new structure not in keeping with the community."

Q: If the proposed zone change is approved, how do we know that the new owner will do what they have said that they will do?

A: The Camden Board of Selectmen is negotiating a Development Agreement, which will "run with the land" and bind these owners and any future owners to the restrictions as outlined and agreed upon. The Development Agreement would also be voted on by the town and linked to the proposed zone change.