SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Harbor Avenue, one of the town roads that connects Clark Point Road and the harbor, ends at the water with a wooden road barrier at the top of a steep bank to stop vehicles from tumbling down the bank.
This winter, a set of wooden stairs was installed along that bank.
Town officials said they did not know who had installed the stairs, since no building permit had been received.
Code Enforcement Officer Don LaGrange sent a notice May 16 to owners of six properties on Harbor Avenue and two on Clark Point Road, asking for “information regarding these stairs” and requesting that they be removed within 14 days.
“Normally, stairs to the waterfront are allowed on a specific privately-owned property, but not at the end of a town-owned public right of way,” LaGrange wrote. “After June 1, the town will take action to have the stairs removed.”
Several of the abutters replied to the notice saying they hoped the stairs would be taken down. They worried that the stairs would attract traffic down the narrow street and cars parked illegally. The stairs could also be a liability to the town if someone were injured, they said.
The end of Harbor Avenue is designated as a public access point to the harbor, but that usually means visual, not physical, access, according to one email from abutters. “Cars and pedestrians come down the street, take pictures of the harbor, and pose for pictures with the harbor in the background,” they wrote. “None seem to have considered the possibility or the need to go over or around the barrier to access the bottom.”
The builder came forward after that notice went out, Town Manager Justin VanDongen told selectmen May 28. Brent Sullivan had built the stairs on behalf of one of the property owners, who intended to donate the stairs to the town. He offered to discuss upgrading the stairs to bring them to code.
VanDongen did some research into the property lines and found that the lots on the street were created in a 1929 subdivision of property that had all, at one time, belonged to the late Sim Mayo.
He also found that each of the properties on Harbor Avenue possess a private right of way down the bank to the high-water line. But the dominant use is still a public right of way, he said.
The selectmen agreed that the installation of stairs did not interfere with the public use and should be allowed to remain. They did ask Sullivan to make changes necessary to bring the stairs up to code. They also asked for signs to limit public parking on the narrow street.