Shoreland Zoning News

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Summer 2014  Vol. 27 No. 3 

In this Edition:

Commissioner's Corner

Climate change is forcing State government to break-down the various silos which have been built up over decades. It's why last fall Governor LePage created the Environmental and Energy Resources Working Group to ensure our approaches as government agencies were cohesive, consistent and helpful, and that the various agencies did  not send conflicting requirements, data or inconsistent information. The group is led by DEP and is comprised of: DMR, DACF, DOT, Energy and IFW. 

We want to hear your suggestions, recommendations and ideas on how we as agencies can reduce any impediments we have created, unblock road blocks we may have built and learn how we can undertake a cross-agency approach to climate change adaptation work you need to accomplish. Adaptation work is going to take all of us working together, and your voices will help us build a shared understanding of the need for the 21st century of environmental regulation. One that is focused on innovation, collaboration and expertise.

We held three listening sessions in Portland, Bangor and Houlton and are still accepting comments. Please submit them to Erle Townsend by Friday, June 20. Your suggestions and recommendations can help move our economy and our environment forward.  

Free online mapping tools available

By Stephenie MacLagan, Shoreland Zoning

Double culvert

Did you know that there are mapping tools available, even for municipalities without GIS software? 

The Maine Stream Habitat Viewer could be called the “culvert viewer.” This mapping tool shows culverts, roads, natural resources and habitats such as Atlantic salmon and trout streams. Clicking on a feature brings up the description of the habitat or condition of the culvert. This can be a handy tool not just for development planning but also for planning climate change adaptability projects. Which culverts are priorities for replacement due to flooding and/or habitat obstruction? The Stream Viewer is just one of many online mapping tools hosted by the Maine Office of GIS.

More recently, the University of Maine Sustainability Solutions Initiative released an online mapping tool called Maine Futures Community Mapper. This planning tool can help municipalities identify land areas suitable for certain uses or conservation, and visualize potential future development under different scenarios, in the Lower Androscoggin and Casco Bay watershed and the Lower Penobscot River watershed. Layers like water bodies, roads, conserved lands and land cover types can be viewed in any Maine community.

Another new tool is available for Washington County municipalities, the Public Parcel Viewer and Planners Maps. With the ability to search by address, the Public Parcel Viewer includes tax map information, with links to the registry of deeds. It also depicts the shoreland zoning, if known, and wetlands and conserved lands. Additionally, the Planners Maps depict information to assist with planning activities, including development infrastructure, brownfield sites and shellfish habitat. These maps will continue to be updated and further developed under a partnership between the Washington County Council of Governments and the University of Maine at Machias.

Don’t forget, many DEP and MEGIS layers are available for viewing through Google Earth. At these websites, you can will be prompted to download Google Earth if it is not already on your computer.

If there are planning or enforcement tools you find helpful, send suggestions for future article topics to Stephenie.

Story Series: Nonconforming structures, new provisions!

By Mike Morse, Shoreland Zoning

Infill Possible

In the last several editions of the Shoreland Zoning News, we discussed nonconforming structure relocation provisions. Today we are introducing the new nonconforming structure expansion provisions enacted by the Maine Legislature and contained within our proposed rulemaking to amend Chapter 1000.

For years expansion has been limited to less than 30% of the floor area and volume of the structure, or for some municipalities the alternative expansion provisions regulated combined total floor area and height limitations based on the distance of the structure from the shoreline. For the most part, the new language combines these two expansion provisions into one new set of standards.

Under the new standards, a nonconforming structure may be expanded up to 30% of the footprint of the structure or up to a certain established limit (based on setback from the shoreline), whichever is greater. All portions of the structure are considered “footprint,” including decks and patios. Structure height is also limited, much as it was with the previous alternative expansion provisions, except that the new language allows the structure height to be either the established height limit or the height of the existing structure, whichever is greater.

While this is not a formal evaluation, you may be interested to know that of the phone conversations we’ve had with folks about the new provisions, it seems that roughly half of the people will be able to expand more, and the other half not as much as the current rule allows. It was not our intent to be more or less restrictive. Rather, the intent was to create a simpler, cleaner set of standards.

Suffice it to say, the new language provides additional flexibility for some landowners, but it no longer requires seemingly onerous volume calculations in any case. Municipalities should have a far easier time reviewing and tracking expansions. Municipalities must amend their ordinances, and have them approved by DEP, in order for these new provisions to be effective locally. Please contact us for guidance on amendment language, or wait for the amendments to Chapter 1000.

What did you think about the story series on nonconforming structures? Have ideas for the next story series? Please let us know!

Chapter 1000 rulemaking update

The Department posted a working draft of amendments to Chapter 1000 in May. We received a number of comments and questions on that draft, and staff is reviewing those now. A revised draft will be posted for public comment this summer. 

The goal of this rulemaking is to incorporate legislative changes to the Shoreland Zoning Act into Chapter 1000, and to make other clarifications that have been identified by staff and stakeholders through experience with the existing rules. If you have questions, contact us.

Your Questions: Structures below the shoreline

By Stephenie MacLagan, Shoreland Zoning

Dock Structure

Q: Are structures that are built on moored docks or floats regulated by shoreland zoning?

A: Since these structures are either “extending or located below” the shoreline, they are subject to the shoreland zoning standards (only where municipalities have extended applicability of the ordinance to structures below the shoreline).

Because of inconsistent phrasing in Chapter 1000, we consulted with the Attorney General’s Office. We determined that the standards apply to all structures and uses extending or located below the shoreline. A moored dock/float (and anything on it) does not have to extend from the shoreline, by way of rope or dock systems, in order to be subject to local shoreland zoning.

This makes sense given the purposes of shoreland zoning and the standards that aim to protect the surrounding character and uses of the area. The standards for these structures:

  • favor temporary over permanent structures,
  • prohibit new structures that are not functionally water-dependent, and
  • prohibit changing the use of existing structures to dwelling units.

The reason for these standards originated from the fact that waters of the state are held for use by the public, for recreation and fishing. Small, temporary docks for boat access or swimming don’t unreasonably interfere with this public use. Such structures are in line with the iconic character of shorelines along Maine’s great ponds and other waters.

Conversely, permanent structures and large, temporary structures can interfere with public use of state waters and prevent shoreland zoning purposes from being achieved. State leases or easements would be required for such structures located over submerged lands, but cannot be granted for structures that:

  • are not water-dependent,
  • require shoreline access across private property,
  • potentially create a risk to public safety, and/or
  • potentially create a hazard to navigation.
Moored Structure

Hopefully, you haven’t seen, and won’t see, structures like this, but feel free to contact us for assistance if your local ordinance regulates structures extending or located below the shoreline. 

These seemingly outrageous stories come from municipal officials like you, so please continue to suggest article topics to Stephenie.

Shoreland Zoning Notes: Tide table and trainings

Use the 2013 highest annual tide table

Annually, with assistance from the Maine Geological Society, the Department has produced an elevation table identifying the highest annual tide (HAT) or maximum spring tide line. Currently, we’re working on a different method; in the meantime, continue using the 2013 HAT Table.

Maine Geological Survey staff is working diligently to produce a table of elevations derived from an alternate method, which would cause the elevation data to be applicable for a longer period of time, rather than for a single year. Additionally, the new method will result in greater consistency. These elevations are used primarily by surveyors for the purposes of delineating the upland edge of a coastal wetland.

Upcoming trainings

Looking for shoreland zoning credits or just want to learn something new?

Striking a Balance: Marine Water Quality. June 26 in Ellsworth. Registration required by June 23. Good for 3 shoreland zoning credit hours. Sponsor: Hancock County Planning Commission.

Annual Soil Erosion Control Field Day. July 10 in Richmond. Registration requiredGood for 5 shoreland zoning credit hours. Sponsor: Maine Rural Water Association.

Soils and Natural Resource Workshop. September 3 in Weld. Registration required by August 25. Good for 6 shoreland zoning credit hours. Sponsors: MAPSS/MAWS/MASE/SSSNNE. 

Watershed Survey Workshop. September 12 in Auburn. More information. Sponsor: Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program.

Erosion and Sedimentation Control Workshops. This fall, statewide. Sponsors/hosts wanted, please contact Bill.