A capacity crowd filled the Meetinghouse on April 2 for a Planning Board hearing that could clear the way for a dock on Sabbathday Lake for residents of the Sabbathday Shores subdivision. Developer Allen Hamilton explained that he intends to propose a seven-slip dock, one slip per subdivision lot. Before the board could consider any dock request, however, they had to first decide whether to permit “active recreation” in the subdivision’s open space. The area in question is currently restricted to “passive recreation” only. Put simply, no active recreation = no dock. More than twenty residents stepped to the microphone to urge the board to conclude just that. Only Hamilton and his real estate agent Matt Trudel spoke in favor of the requested change.
After nearly two hours of testimony and discussion, the board reached a unanimous decision that likely left no one in the room completely happy. The board kept in place the overall restriction to passive uses but crafted a narrow exception to allow consideration of a single dock for the subdivision. Hamilton will have to return to the board with a detailed dock proposal.
In opposing Hamilton’s application, some residents cited adverse impacts on the character and health of a lake that resident Cheryl McKinnon called “a crown jewel of the town.” This “asset that is taken for granted,” as McKinnon put it, is in fact the result of decades of proactive stewardship by the Shakers, the Chandler family, and others, and by the hard work of present-day volunteers to preserve and protect the lake and surrounding watershed, McKinnon and other speakers pointed out.
Other residents spoke of setting a dangerous precedent: allowing ‘funnel’ or ‘keyhole’ development, where back lots with “little slivers of access,” as Tom Driscoll put it, put disproportionate pressure on the beach and lake. Cheryl McKinnon noted that funnel development allows back lot owners to avoid waterfront taxes, a point she said is explicitly touted in Sabbathday Shores’ ads. She read from its current ads that mention “waterfront luxury homes without the tax burden” and also promise a deeded dock slip.
According to resident Jennifer Elizabeth, more-powerful boats are already tearing up subsurface grasses, eroding the shoreline, and creating a safety hazard on peak weekends. More power boats also mean more risk of invasive species like milfoil, according to Lillian Nayder, who coordinates the lake’s boat inspection program. Unlike neighboring lakes, Nayder said, Sabbathday is free of invasive species that not only degrade water quality but depress property values.
Several speakers—and board members—observed that New Gloucester lacks comprehensive lake regulations to guide decisions like this one. Resident John Salisbury urged the board to adopt a moratorium until the town develops “a decent ordinance” on dock standards and access. Without a comprehensive lake ordinance, board chair Don Libby noted, the planning board has no alternative but to react to individual applications, sometimes with unfortunate unintended consequences. He cited conversions of seasonal camps to year-round use as a serious threat to the lake, yet conversions are currently reviewed only for septic compliance.
In reacting to Hamilton’s application, board members were stymied by the ordinance’s lack of any definitions for “active” and “passive recreation.” Board member Erik Hargreaves wondered how and why the distinction between active and passive uses emerged in the first place. Could the board avoid the active/passive struggle altogether, member Rebecca Klotzle wondered, and impose an open-space limitation some other way? For his part, member Ben Tettlebaum repeatedly invited speakers to say what they considered passive versus active recreational activities. Don Libby wryly summed up, “You know it when you see it.”
As for the impact of allowing active recreation and possibly a dock, member Charlie Burnham expressed concern that the alternative—multiple moorings and boats being repeatedly dragged in and out—could cause more environmental damage than a dock would. Burnham said that any proposed dock would need to be “harmonious” with the existing docks on the lake, and not be a “marina-like dock.”
In the end, the board seemed most persuaded by the fact that any other landowner with 300 feet of lake frontage would be entitled to have a dock. Sabbathday Shores has the requisite frontage, the board confirmed. Denying them a dock would not be fair, Hargreaves said. As to what happens next, board chair Libby said, “We wait and see what comes forward for a dock.”
A video of the full April 2 planning board meeting is available here.
— Reported by Joanne Cole and edited by NGX