The Alna Planning Board upheld its decision to deny Jeff Spinney’s application for a shoreland zoning permit in two tie votes Monday, July 27.
Spinney applied for a shoreland zoning permit to build a boat ramp and dock for his private club at his 126 Golden Ridge Road property, on the Sheepscot River. Spinney and his attorney, Kristin Collins, later withdrew the dock from the application.
The board denied Spinney’s application June 29 because members could not determine whether the existing boat ramp is a legally nonconforming structure – one that violates the existing ordinance but is legal because it predates a 1993 shoreland zoning ordinance. To meet that requirement, there would have to be clear evidence that the ramp had been used and maintained consistently.
Spinney and Collins requested that the board reconsider its decision because, according to Collins, a packet of documents compiled by board member Jim Amaral and reviewed during the June 29 meeting omitted two letters that showed continuous use of the ramp.
The omitted letters were from Toby Stockford and Mike Trask, who said they and others have been using the ramp to access the river since the 1980s. Both spoke at Monday’s meeting.
“We have always been able to gain access to our favorite waterway through the old Reed Road. A boat launching facility has always been there,” Stockford said in a February 2020 letter. “Built into the banks of the Sheepscot River. Been there for generations before me. It has always been a very convenient place to trailer our boats.”
The ramp “has been here a very long time, and the use of launching boats has been around for as long as I can remember and even before that,” Trask, the town’s fire chief, said in his February 2020 letter. “Before Jeff there was a short-term owner who cut off our access for a summer and that’s probably why some people may think it’s not there.”
During the meeting, Trask said he never saw anyone apply gravel to maintain the area, but he rarely used it during the day, when maintenance would have been done.
Collins said the history of usage shows that the ramp existed prior to the adoption of the shoreland zoning ordinance in 1993.
Acting Chair Taylor McGraw made a motion to accept the ramp as a grandfathered structure. McGraw and Tom Albee voted that the ramp has existed prior to the ordinance’s adoption and constituted a grandfathered structure. Jim Amaral and Laurie Hiestand voted against the motion. Needing a majority to pass, the motion failed.
Next, at the suggestion of planning consultant Bob Faunce, Amaral made a motion to accept the ramp as an accessory structure to Spinney’s existing dock. McGraw and Albee voted yes, while Amaral and Hiestand voted no. The motion failed.
Hiestand said she did not think the board had seen adequate evidence that the ramp had been consistently maintained. Conversely, McGraw said that there was enough evidence to prove that the ramp had been used since the 1980s and should be grandfathered.
After the votes, Amaral asked for residents to be civil and respectful in the future.
“Over the last six months there’s been a lot of talk about what an important resource the river is,” he said. “I just want to remind everyone that there’s another resource in this town that’s more important than the river, and that’s the citizens.”
“I would ask that as we move forward, no matter what side of the issue you’re on, please treat everybody with respect, listen to them, empathize with them, and be civil in your discourse,” he said.
Collins said in an email Tuesday afternoon that Spinney will appeal the decision to the Alna Board of Appeals.