September 1, 2007
Islesboro debates the Northeast Point subdivision
by Sandy Oliver
Leucadia National Corporation's proposed subdivision on the former Pendleton Stevens property in late 2005 confronted the town of Islesboro with the reality that its ordinances left it vulnerable to dense development.
Northeast Point LLC originally offered a preliminary application for a 21-lot subdivision but quickly withdrew it when it generated a strong protest from many in the community, as well as the stop-gap passage of a three-year growth-cap ordinance on construction limited to 12 new homes per year to allow time for more protective ordinances. (The 12 dwelling permits included ten homes plus two reserved for affordable housing construction.)
Northeast Point then returned with another preliminary application for a 14-lot development, which has been grinding through the planning board process since August 2006. This application has been challenged by an organization named Stop, Think, and Plan (STP), and by an abutter, the Islesboro Island Trust (IIT), which is the island land trust. Since then, nearly monthly meetings sometimes three hours long have dealt with this application.
Controversy over the construction cap led some in the community to complain that the summer community did not wish to see islanders get work, despite the fact that nearly 100 workers commute daily to Islesboro to work in the building trades on new construction or renovation of existing summer homes because there is an inadequate supply of island residents to handle the work. Others observed that the construction cap imposed unfair competition for the few available building permits per year. Since the cap has been in place, said code enforcement officer Bill Boardman, not all allowable permits have been used in any given year. In 2006, the town issued nine permits and so far in 2007, only three. He said that not all permits issued result in a building.
Patrick Bienvenue, who acquired the property for Leucadia and toured the property before it came on the market publicly. Bienvenue made several public appearances in town to describe the company's vision for the development, attempt to answer community questions and respond to objections. Surprised at the adverse reaction, Bienvenue admitted that he embarked on the project without understanding islanders and island life. He hopes to own one of the houses planned for Northeast Point, as do several other Leucadia officers.
Beginning with the January 2007 public hearings, Leucadia brought a team of lawyers and expert witnesses, lead by attorney Andrew Hamilton. A court recorder has been present at all meetings to record testimony and deliberation regarding the application. Town attorney Jack Conway and expert witnesses hired by the town attended, as did attorneys and expert witnesses for both STP and IIT. Most vocal of the opponents was STP, whose majority membership consists of summer residents.
The stickiest issues have been the number of lots, water and scenic impact.
The planning board has methodically and tediously worked through the current ordinances by chapter and paragraph to determine whether the applicant adequately addressed the impact on groundwater from the development's drainage, septic systems and wells. Challenges to the developer have included concerns about salt water intrusion, adequate drainage and probable recharge rates. Despite sometimes contradictory expert testimony from hydrologists, geologists and soils scientists, the board determined that the applicant had adequately addressed the issue.
Also discussed has been the development's impact on ferry traffic and parking, and town infrastructure such as waste disposal, the health center and public safety.
Scenic impact, the most subjective of all categories in the application, prompted the board to consider combining some lots on the Bounty Cove side of the subdivision. Board member Linda Mahan pointed out that once gone the view would be gone forever. Board chair Alice Fay reported that Bounty Cove was included in an assessment of scenic inventory resources conducted by State Planning Office Critical Areas Program in 1992. She said, "This is a subjective part of the ordinance, but this study makes it less subjective." Bounty Cove was also included in the 1997 Town of Islesboro Visual Resource Study, and also by a study from IIT and the Island Institute.
In the July 9 planning board meeting, scenic values, erosion concerns and stress on shared wells led the board to discuss reducing the overall number of lots by five by combining some lots and prohibiting construction on others -- whereupon Hamilton asked for a break in the deliberations noting that reduction by five lots was "untenable." When the discussion resumed, he asked for a delay until later in August so that "we can better address the questions of the board." Since then the applicant has requested a further delay until the first September meeting.
Meanwhile, the comprehensive planning committee is meeting to review the current comprehensive plan and draw up new recommendations for ordinance changes. Its main concern at present is groundwater quality protection. Groundwater limitations will in all likelihood have the greatest impact on future island development.
Planned for an exceptionally scenic and historic property on Bounty Cove immediately north of the Narrows on Islesboro, the Northeast Point development would consist of luxury summer homes, limited to four bedrooms, each built by property owners according to designs prescribed by the developer. Homeowners would join a property owners' association and sign covenants governing everything from how much of the property could be cleared to how wastewater would be managed, what kind of landscaping material could be used, and even exterior painting schemes. First line enforcement of the covenants, however, falls to the Islesboro Code Enforcement Officer.
Bounty Cove is where Islesboro's first settler, Shubal Williams, built his home. The property comprising Williams's home site contains 80 acres directly across the road from Northeast Point subdivision. It was recently protectively purchased from Frank and Marjorie Trautman of Rockport by John McCaw. The Trautmans' agreement with McCaw included the donation of the proceeds of the sale to purchase a 6,000-acre piece of land including Katahdin Lake to become part of Baxter State Park. McCaw further agreed to donate additional money to establish the Baxter Park Wilderness Fund. McCaw, a relative newcomer to the Dark Harbor summer community now owns the former Islesboro Inn, which actress Kirstie Alley converted to a private home.
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