Planning Board denies proposed Bass Harbor campground

The campground’s proposals include several tent platforms, some as high as 8 feet off the ground with another 8 feet of tent on top. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

TREMONT Residents of Bass Harbor will not be seeing a new campground pop up in their neighborhood any time soon. 

An application for a proposed 15-site campground at 158 Harbor Drive was unanimously denied by members of the Planning Board on Tuesday after they determined during the site plan review process that four conditions had not been met. Those four conditions included access to the site, stormwater management, natural features (including bufferingand shoreland relationship, which determines that development of the property will not adversely affect water quality and shoreline of the adjacent harbor.  

Review and findings of fact of the site plan application took about two and a half hours, similar to the timeframe of the public hearing on the project the previous week. During the Aug. 22 meeting, members of the Planning Board asked the applicant if their review, and ultimate approval or denial of the application, could be postponed a week after one member refused to continue after 8:30 p.m. Had the board continued without member Geoff Young, they would not have had a quorum to make a final decision.  

Debate about access to the proposed campground site lies with the use of a driveway that goes through the commercial fisheries and maritime activity zone (CFMA). When the main building on the site was used as an inn up until 2001, that driveway was allowed as a nonconforming use.  

“Is the road permitted there as an accessory to the inn that was there 30 years ago instead of the house there now?” Planning Board member Lawson Wulsin asked.  

“The driveway we’re talking about here is an accessory to a use, then the use was discontinued,” said Attorney Dan Pileggi, who is representing five neighbors of the proposed campground property. “Commercial use ended in 2001. The only thing you’re allowed to rule on is what your ordinance says. There isn’t a way to use that road for commercial use, according to your ordinance. There is no existing, nonconforming commercial use on that property.” 

In the town’s ordinance under non-conforming uses for structures, section B refers to resumption prohibited. This section is listed prior to 5(c) regarding change of nonconforming use. Resumption allows for nonconforming use, per Planning Board decision, for an extension of one year if a previous nonconforming use of a property or structure has ended within a year of that extension request. Commercial use of the property at 158 Harbor Drive ended nearly 20 years ago. 

In the change of use section, it states an existing nonconforming use may be changed if there will be no greater adverse impact on adjacent properties.  

“You have to define harmful,” said Jeff Crafts, a licensed engineer who is managing the development of the proposed project, referring to ‘adverse impact.’ “I’m saying there is no greater harm.” 

Chairman Mark Good asked Crafts if he thought a driveway used to access a campground would have the same impact as one accessing a house.  

“It feels like your interpretation, Jeff, makes some of this meaningless,” said Planning Board member Brett Witham. “You would contend that 5(b) has no bearing on this whatsoever.” 

Consultations with the state’s department of environmental protection and Maine Municipal Association’s legal counsel deferred the decision on this matter to the Planning Board by use of the town’s ordinance.  

Young initially made a motion, that he eventually withdrew, stating the requirement for access to the site had not been met, focusing on increased impact of nonconforming use. Witham suggested the motion be phrased differently. 

“This condition has not been met because this access road was an accessory to a nonconforming use and that nonconforming use has expired,” he said. “I think we need to focus on B.” 

Although Crafts had submitted a stormwater report to the Planning Board in June, some members of the board did not feel it adequately addressed stormwater management on the property.  

“I believe it’s an option of the Planning Board,” Crafts said to the board, referring to the town’s ordinance. “It doesn’t say that a stormwater management plan must be submitted.” 

In the report Crafts submitted, he explained there would be few changes to the grade of the property and limited impervious surfaces added. Witham felt this was adequate and voted against the motion that the requirement had not been met.  

All four members of the board voted that the natural features requirement of the project had not been met, specifically regarding buffering of the property.  

“There’s no buffering along the driveway,” said Chairman Mark Good. “Right there, it hasn’t been met.” 

Crafts has proposed there will be several tent platforms, some as high as 8 feet off the ground with another 8 feet of tent on top, on the property. Buffering for structures that could possibly go as high as 16 feet, would be difficult, according to Young’s comments during the discussion.  

“We don’t have any indication of how high each platform is,” said Good.  

“I feel like we have insufficient information to meet the condition,” said Witham. “The challenge is, it’s hard to know if we don’t know… The answer is, there’s got to be enough that it yields a year-round screen that’s effective enough after four years.” 

Members of the board almost voted that the shoreland relationship requirement had been met until Young pointed out that that finding was not consistent with their previous vote regarding stormwater management.  

“I think they’re related,” said Young.  

Wulsin and Good agreed, Witham voted consistently with his vote on stormwater management.  

“Again, I just don’t feel there’s enough impact from impervious surfaces,” he said.  

All 18 other conditions on the site plan review application were met or not applicable to the project, according to the board’s votes.  

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.