Conversion of historic Camden boathouse to residence moves toward town warrant
CAMDEN — Cynthia and John Reed hope to renovate and transform an old cedar-shingled boathouse at the head of Camden Harbor into a home, but they need voter approval to proceed. On March 21, the Camden Select Board will hold a public hearing on a proposal to place a zoning amendment on the June Town Meeting warrant, as well as a development agreement, which, if voters agree, will enable the $5 million project to proceed.
Currently, the American Boathouse sits empty next to the Camden Harbor Park at 15 Atlantic Ave., a vestige of the town’s rusticator heritage. Built in 1904, its warps are becoming more pronounced, as its settles further into the the frost-heaved ground.
But the Reeds want to buy it and spend approximately $5 million rebuilding it from stem to stern, and convert its use to a residence, with room underneath for a yacht. They need, however, to change town ordinance so that the zone in which the boathouse sits – Harbor Business District – will allow residential development at the first floor level. The purpose of the 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 American Boathouse is on the National Register of Historic Places, which means if the Reeds do renovate the building, only the interior can be changed, in order to remain on the register. The Reed’s attorney Rendle Jones said last November that the Reeds want to keep the Boathouse under National Historic Register designation, which requires that the building’s exterior not be altered.
The discussion began in November 2016, when Camden Attorney Jones approached the Camden Planning Board with the Reed idea. The Reeds, who are Camden property owners and currently building a large house on Bay View Street and another smaller house on Dillingham Point, had hired a team of engineers, architects and an attorney to asses the possible restoration of the 6,817-square-foot shed.
They want to use the Boathouse to accommodate family and friends, said Jones, in November.
History of the American Boathouse
The American Boathouse sits adjacent to Camden Harbor Park, and diagonally across the street from the Camden Public Library and Amphitheatre, both of which are also on the Historic Register. The Register is the federal government's list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects considered worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Register represent’s the country’s effort “to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources,” the National Park Service says, in its program description.
The Boathouse, according to its listing on the National Register, was built in 1904 to accommodate the 130-foot steam yacht Maunaloa, owned by Chauncey Borland, a summer resident of Camden and one of the founders of the Camden Yacht Club, formed in 1906.
The Register listed the Boathouse in 1981 after Maine Historian Earl Shettleworth lent his signature to the designation. The documents supporting the shed’s including on the Register said the long shingled structure, which extends from Atlantic Ave. to the shoreline, is “one of the oldest if not the oldest recreational boathouses in Maine and possibly the country.”
It evokes, the document said: “images of Maine as a playground of the very rich at the turn of the century — an era of massive yachts and opulence and ostentation. This picturesque structure, more recently used for commercial purposes, is a landmark on the shore of Camden harbor and vividly recalls an era now departed.”
But even that commercial use evaporated approximately a decade ago when the yacht broker company Cannell Payne and Page shuttered its doors there. It is currently owned by the Cannell Boatbuilding Company and assessed by the town at $890,000.
The Boathouse and the .2-acre parcel is on the market now for $2.4 million. Immediately adjacent to the Boathouse — within a few feet — is another old boathouse, which is owned by Lyman Morse. The two old structures fill in a formerly industrial end of Camden Harbor, where large oceangoing vessels were once constructed.
According to the 1981 Register listing:” The one-story boathouse is of frame construction with a gable roof and shingle siding. It is oriented on a north-south axis, with the south end on the harbor fitted with a large doorway. The long sides of the building contain 10 bays, each being 6/6 sash. At the northern end of the structure is a one-story, hipped roof office of later date with doorways facing north and west. Fenestration here is 8/2. The office extends westerly from the west wall of the boathouse giving the full structure an attenuated L-shaped plan.”
Last March, the Reeds, of Duxbury, Mass., purchased 10 Dillingham Point, which at that time was home to an old summer cottage known as Arequipa. They demolished the cottage with intentions of constructing a new year-round home there.
They also secured property on Bay View Street, where they are constructing a guest house for family and friends.
The current ordinance reads: “Residential use is permitted, within 180 feet of the front property line on Atlantic Avenue, except on a floor at street level, provided all Zoning Ordinance requirements are met. The street level space shall be fully enclosed and conditioned with a minimum ceiling height of 7 feet, 6 inches. Access to the use may be permitted from street level so long as the width or overall area of such access way does not exceed minimum state and federal requirements.”
Jones crafted an amendment that read: “Residential use shall be permitted at street level in a structure existing on the date of the amendment of this paragraph if the structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, provided that the residential use shall not exceed seventy percent (70 percent) of the volume of the space encompassed by the structure.”
In order for the Reeds to progress with their project, they need approval from Camden voters.
All winter, the Planning Board and Jones have been hashing out the details of a possible agreement, with the consensus that the Reeds have the resources and intent to preserve the historical integrity of the boathouse.
In a March 2 memo to the Select Board, Lowrie Sargent, Chairman of the Camden Planning Board, wrote:
“Bill Kelly, Camden Town Attorney, has recommended that there be a two part approval process, both of which will be decided by Camden voters. The first part is a Zoning Ordinance amendment, which has been endorsed by the Planning Board and sent to the Select Board for their consideration to include on the June warrant. The second part is a Development Agreement to be negotiated between the applicant and the Select Board that may contain specific language to address the applicant's proposed use.
“The Planning Board believes it is in the best interest of the Town and the goal of the Development Agreement to preserve the exterior structure, with the exception of the attached shed. With that goal in mind, the Planning Board suggests that the following matters be addressed in the Development Agreement:
1. The terms of the Development Agreement shall run with the land and bind future owners of the property.
2. An abstract of the Development Agreement should be recorded in the Knox County Registry of Deeds.
3. The property is to be restored and maintained so that it remains on the National Register of Historic Places.
4. Residential use shall be limited to no more than 70% of the structure's volume.
5. Residential use shall be limited to one-single family residence with no accessory apartment.
6. The applicant shall post a surety performance and payment bond with the Town to guarantee completion of the restoration.
7. Applicant shall use best efforts to maintain the existing landscaping on the property.
“We all understand that this is a valuable piece of property of the town, but it is a private piece of property,” said Sargent, before the Select Board at its regularly scheduled March 7 meeting. “They [the Reeds] are trying hard to give us a building that we can all enjoy.”
The board talked at length about surety bonds, and the development agreement, which, they all agreed, might be the first such formal agreement that Camden has ever made with a private developer.
The board also agreed that it was an important document.
“We have made mistakes that have cost the town money,” said Select Board member Jim Heard.
The development agreement specifies that the:
• The single-family residence shall not exceed 70 percent of the volume of the structure, excluding the shed on the premies that was built in approximately 1982;
• The shed shall be demolished;
• The external appearance shall not change and jeopardize the building’s inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places;
• The Select Board must be involved with any modifications to the historic listing;
• The renovation applications will be conducted according to the town’s zoning and planning board procedures.
The Select Board will hold its public hearing on the two proposed warrant articles March 21, at the Washington Street Meeting Room.
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