Waterfronts: The Land Trust Solution
February 2004, The Working Waterfront
By Rob Snyder
Donnell and Mark Sewall, two lobstermen whose families have been
fishing from York Harbor for generations, recently purchased a dock
near historic Sewall's Bridge on the York River. Much can be learned
from this experience that could benefit other communities struggling
with preserving access to the sea.
purchase of York Working Waterfront is widely regarded as having
produced a breakthrough method for preserving fishermen's access
to the sea. In fact, this case actually added to the collective
length of Maine's working waterfront, transferring land from residential
to water-dependent use. The fishermen were ecstatic at the property
closing party; they will not have to worry about access again.
River Land Trust bought the development rights, CEI helped the fishermen
fund the venture, the lawyers negotiated the terms of the deal,
and the community rallied its support. The components: a local land
trust, charismatic individuals, an urgent community, an intrigued
seller, and support from the state.
charismatic individuals included Joey Donnelly of the York Land
Trust, lawyer Ed Bradley, Elizabeth Sheehan of CEI, and Scott Stevens
of the Old York Homestead Association, Mr. Donnell and Mr. Sewall,
two very driven fishermen, and a host of others. At the real estate
closing party Jeff Donnell recalled how, "this was possible
because a few people came together on a cold Maine day in January."
They came together because a small piece of land and a deep-water
dock on the York River had gone on the market.
price, over $700,000, was beyond the means of the fishermen. For
the following months "every time a Porsche drove out on the
dock we would get on the phone to one another in hopes that the
property would not sell," recalls Donnelly. Luckily the seller
was intrigued with the proposition and gave the fishermen time to
gather their resources.
back, one of the last fishing piers in York was sold and then converted
to a residence complete with potted trees and a white picket fence.
This was not the working waterfront envisioned by the York community,
and residents began to organize.
York River Land Trust was able to engage the project because it
felt that the dock was part of the historic and scenic beauty of
the York River, and as part of the viewshed, it fell within the
land trust's mission to attempt to protect the piece of land from
unwanted development. It bought the development rights to the property.
with farming, land trusts have applied their methods to protect
the resource and the resource harvester. However, land trusts traditionally
protect largely undeveloped rural landscapes, and working waterfronts
are often heavily developed. Doreen MacGillis, Director of the York
Land Trust related that for her, "economic activities can complement
ecological activities - we are interested in protecting pristine
landscapes as well as securing the vision we want for our communities."
a community's collective vision and then moving to preserve it is
a contentious undertaking. Recognizing this, York Land Trust worked
closely with community members, fishermen, and an architect to develop
the aesthetic codes for the properties structures. At a state-wide
meeting on access held in December, people appreciated this effort,
while recognizing the need for land trusts to work towards a flexible
definition of what a working waterfront might look like in the future.
conservation easement language for the property was challenging
and was only resolved on the final day of the sale. Negotiators
worked to define "working waterfront" in a way that could
accommodates future changes in the fishing industry. Will there
be lobsters forever? And what do we do with the land and structure
if there aren't? As one observer noted, "Do we hang a sign
up that says 'waiting for future working waterfront?' "
York easement defines "working water front uses" with
the future in mind. The fishery is not specified. To paraphrase,
these uses include the floats, docks, vessels, and other equipment
and support resources required for harvesting aquatic (marine and
freshwater) organisms. Support offices for related businesses are
included. Retail shops, offices and open air snack bars are allowed
provided that they relate directly the to the harvest of aquatic
organisms. Marinas, restaurants, and fuel pumps are not included.
(Picture Port Clyde in your head and you've got the definition.)
open space, forests, historical structures and certain other lands
are recognized by the state as having special qualities that provide
significant public benefits to local communities. Currently the
state, in partnership with the Working Waterfront Coalition, is
making the case to add working waterfronts to this list.
is no doubt that the land trust solution to working waterfronts
will be harder to activate in other places. Fishermen will be wary
of involving land trusts in the preservation of their working waterfronts,
given the historic mistrust between environmentalists and natural
resource harvesters. In addition, fishermen will be leery of being
frozen in place and time by the constraints of easement language.
These barriers to applying the land trust model highlight the need
for local land trusts to engage communities in a case-by-case examination
of the appropriateness of this option.
Snyder represents the Island Institute on the Working Waterfront
Copyright © 2004 The Working Waterfront.