By Abigail W. Adams
Caryn Davies and Finley Merrill (left to right) pitch PilotHouse to the Edgecomb Planning Board Thursday, Aug. 20. PilotHouse hopes to construct self-sufficient, portable units to provide luxurious accomodations to vacationers while preventing the over-development and maintaining the natural beauty of the areas tourists flock to. (Abigail Adams photo)
Growing up, Finley Merrill, of Boston, spent his summers on a wooden boat traveling the coast of Maine. The experience instilled in him a deep appreciation for the natural environment.
A graduate of Bates College, Merrill long pondered how to combine his entrepreneurial spirit with his appreciation for the outdoors and support for environmental conservation.
One year ago, he founded PilotHouse, “an innovative hospitality solution,” according to the company’s brochure. The company hopes to construct portable, self-sufficient units, described as something between an RV and a mobile home, which would enable people to enjoy the natural beauty of a seasonal tourist area, such as the Midcoast, in comfort without leading to the area’s overdevelopment.
PilotHouse is looking at Edgecomb as a potential location for its first unit, which the company hopes to construct over the winter provided an agreement with a landowner is reached, Merrill said. Merrill and intern Caryn Davies presented the PilotHouse concept to the Edgecomb Planning Board Thursday, Aug. 20 to learn which permits and ordinances PilotHouse would need to follow to make Edgecomb its temporary, seasonal home.
“You’re ahead of the times,” Chair Jack French said. “This is a really interesting concept.”
According to Merrill, PilotHouse intends to partner with landowners through a revenue-sharing or operational agreement to place their unit on private land during the peak tourist season and rent it out on a nightly basis.
The unit would be transportable by any Ford F-350-type pickup truck. When the peak tourist season ends in the north, the unit would be hauled down south for the start of another peak tourist season, Merrill and Davies said.
“A lot of places that have a beautiful landscape are forced to build a lot of hotels, motels, and condos for a seasonal tourist market that are vacant the rest of the year,” Merrill said. “This is a portable solution to that. We can offer luxurious vacation rentals that maintain the landscape and the natural beauty of the area.”
The self-contained units will be powered through a solar panel and will offer a kitchen, living area, bedroom, and bathroom complete with shower. The initial design calls for a 300- to 400-gallon holding tank, which, Merrill said, he hopes will last three to four weeks before requiring a pump-out.
Noting that refuse disposal is always “tricky,” Merrill said he expects the holding tank to be one of the project’s biggest obstacles.
“This is ahead of its time,” planning board member David Nutt said. “It’s also ahead of planning board regulations.” Planning board members debated where PilotHouse units, which fall somewhere between a camper and a mobile home, would fall under town ordinances.
The planning board debated whether the PilotHouse model would fall under a commercial use in the ordinances, which would require a full site plan review, or whether it would be considered an individual, private campsite, which would only require authorization from the code enforcement officer.
If each parcel of land was limited to one PilotHouse unit, it could be considered an individual, private campsite, planning board members said.
If the unit remained on the land for longer than 120 days, it would be considered the same as a residential structure and would trigger a full site plan review, they said.
“The planning board asked the right questions and a lot of the same questions we ask ourselves as a company,” Merrill said. “Where do we fall in the regulations? How do we make sure the local community likes what we’re doing?”
According to Merrill, Edgecomb was identified as a potential location for PilotHouse’s “showcase property” because of the natural beauty of the area, its proximity to the water, its proximity to Boston and other metropolitan areas, and a large amount of still relatively undeveloped land.
Mount Desert Island is also being explored as a potential location for PilotHouse’s first unit. Merrill is looking into coastal Georgia as a potential location for the unit to spend its winter months.
PilotHouse is currently looking for private landowners to partner with before moving forward with the construction of the first unit. Merrill is encouraging landowners interested in learning more about PilotHouse to contact him at 774-283-0362 or Finley.Merrill@PilotHouse.co.
(Ed. Note: This story has been corrected and updated to correctly reflect the self-sufficient, portable units PilotHouse hopes to develop can be transported by any Ford F-350-type pick up truck.)