2017-09-15 / Community

Neighbors raise stink over fish house

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


The building at 48-Rear Langsford Road in Cape Porpoise, above, built last year by JJWZ LLC (owned by Arundel residents Bob and Linda Zuke) has recently become the subject of controversy among neighbors. Neighbors claim the building was improperly permitted by the town of Kennenbunkport, violates deed restrictions and that it blocks their view of the Goat Island Lighthouse. At left, the original O’Reilly Fish House as seen after sustaining damage in a 1993 storm and its destruction in a similar 2008 weather event. The photo is from a Kennebunkport Planning Department file for the lot. (Duke Harrington photo/Courtesy photo) The building at 48-Rear Langsford Road in Cape Porpoise, above, built last year by JJWZ LLC (owned by Arundel residents Bob and Linda Zuke) has recently become the subject of controversy among neighbors. Neighbors claim the building was improperly permitted by the town of Kennenbunkport, violates deed restrictions and that it blocks their view of the Goat Island Lighthouse. At left, the original O’Reilly Fish House as seen after sustaining damage in a 1993 storm and its destruction in a similar 2008 weather event. The photo is from a Kennebunkport Planning Department file for the lot. (Duke Harrington photo/Courtesy photo) KENNEBUNKPORT — Neighbors of a fish house built atop a marsh off Langsford Road in Cape Porpoise say the place really stinks — figuratively, at least.

Langsford Road resident Gary Eaton has complained before both Kennebunkport selectmen and the town planning board recently, claiming too much time had passed prior to issuance of a building permit last summer to JJWZ LLC for construction of the 24x32-foot building.

The original century-old structure was reportedly destroyed by a storm in 1993, with its shell finally washed away by the Patriots Day storm in 2007.

The previous property owner, Robert O’Reilly, got approval in 2008 from the planning board for a replacement “consistent with its use since construction.”

A building permit was issued in 2009, and renewed in 2011 and 2014.

On Aug. 2, 2016, O’Reilly sold to JJWZ, owned by Arundel residents Bob and Linda Zuke, who obtained a renewed building permit the same day, for the building to be used for the lobstering business of the Zuke’s two sons.

However, apart from the time lapse since the loss of the original structure, which should eliminate any grandfathering status, Eaton claims, he also believes the building will not be used for its stated purpose, questioning the status of the Zuke sons as genuine lobstermen.

A Kennebunkport native who moved back part time following the death of his father and acquisition of the family homestead on Langsford Road, Eaton also said the former fish house was a function of the working waterfront in name only.

For nearly 70 years before its destruction, it was used for boat storage only, he said.

The essence of his argument, Eaton said in a Sept. 11 interview, is that the Zuke’s “exploited a loophole” — one that should have slammed shut a long time ago, using their sons as props to build what is bound to become a waterfront “investment property.” And the real “environmental travesty,” he says, is that Linda Zuke is a trustee of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust.

Construction of the fish house was allowed under the Working Waterfront initiative for water dependent business, an avenue for converting typically non-buildable into places where building can occur.

“The Zuke kids are now the only lobstermen I know who own a fish house in Cape Porpoise,” Eaton said. “Is that essential? Really? How about all the hundred or so other lobstermen, many being second, third or fourth generation fishermen, and not kids just out of high school? How do they get by? Allowing this building to be built under that initiative was in my mind offensive, or something that deserves a darker more severe word.”

Meanwhile, other area residents have more practical concerns.

“I had beautiful views of the [Goat Island] lighthouse when I bought my house. I paid for those views. Now I see no lighthouse. None,” Kathi Preble Jordan said at the Aug. 10 selectmen’s meeting.

Zuke declined comment on Monday. KCT Executive Director Tom Bradbury could not be reached for comment. However, in an Aug. 31 letter, Bradbury distanced his organization from the controversy, noting that while Zuke is one of 22 trustees, she is not member of the board of directors. Moreover, she was not even a trustee until this past spring, after construction of the new fish house.

And while KCT did negotiate with O’Reilly for purchase and preservation of the lot at 48-rear Langsford Road, that also happened before Zuke’s involvement with the trust.

“As Mr. Eaton should be aware, the trust has nothing to do with the implementation or enforcement of our state and town permitting codes. Nor do we have any connection with the Zukes regarding their fish house or have any plans for its use,” Bradbury wrote. “We are sympathetic that the structure disrupts his once unobstructed view of the 14 islands that the trust has protected, as well as that of Goat Island Lighthouse, which the trust has invested over $1 million dollars in order to maintain the historic look and feel of the harbor [but] we chose to decline Mr. Eaton’s request to help him get the building torn down, for doing so would go well beyond the stated mission of the organization and past practice.

“The trust has had a long standing policy of working tirelessly toward what we are for rather than being defined by what we are against,” Bradbury continued. “To be fair, we also didn’t get involved when Mr. Eaton recently added a wine bar to his ‘fish house.’ Instead, we spent our time and resources protecting the harbor as we always have, keeping the lighthouse a source of beauty and pride, cleaning and monitoring the islands, doing archaeological work to learn more of our past, supporting our Island Stewards and allowing thousands to enjoy this wonderful place as citizens here always have. Our work on behalf of the community and our ethics remain strong and unchanged.”

“Tom Bradbury should be ashamed,” Eaton said.

Eaton acknowledged that he is not a fisherman and does not use his own fish house as such. However, it is an existing structure, he said. The difference is that nearly a decade passed after the O’Reilly building was destroyed and nearly 25 since its last functional use. He also points to earlier deeds which grant easements for access to the lot from Langsford Road by fishermen, and others that allow for the original “fish house” as a “recreational boathouse,” but otherwise restricts the property to a pristine condition.

“Eight years passed with no definable construction progress, yet permits renewed year after year. Our Land Use Ordinances, however, state the permittee must show “real progress” in construction,” Eaton said.

Attorney Steve Hodsdon, of Hodsdon & Ayer Attorneys at Law in Kennebunk, who represents the Zuke’s JJWZ corporation, was at the recent meetings to rebut Eaton.

The project passed muster not only with the town, but the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, he said, adding that the Zuke’s “have done everything by the book.”

Hodsdon also noted that the board of selectmen is not the proper place to challenge planning board decisions, a fact to which selectmen themselves eagerly attested. Also, not appropriate as a vehicle for criticism against the Zuke’s has been a recent planning board review of a wharf application at 37 Langsford Road.

Eaton, who started by waging a letter writing campaign in local newspapers, has acknowledged as much, saying his commandeering of unrelated municipal meetings on Aug. 10 and Aug. 16 was an attempt to hold the town’s feet to the fire.

“I’m not going to let this go,” he said.

There is no available appeal process for the project, leaving Eaton to lament that he was not in-state when the Zuke purchase and construction took place.

Hodsdon, however, expressed little sympathy for that concern.

“Mr Eaton is frustrated but just because he moved out west some 10 years ago, things didn’t need to come to a halt here,” he said. “He had every right and opportunity to participate in things and he hasn’t even participated in the last year as he’s already admitted.”

Hodsdon has said another permit application is imminent regarding the Zuke fish house, one that will be completely “transparent.”

Attempts to reach Town Planner Werner Gilliam, for comment regarding Eaton’s allegations by press time, were unsuccessful.

However, Gilliam wrote in a September 2013 memo that indicated his stance on a replacement building — a communication that far predates the Zuke’s involvement with the property.

“I have been involved with the permit process related to the reconstruction of Robert O’Reilly’s fish house,” he wrote. “Structures such as this fish house are an essential part of the traditional character of Cape Porpoise Harbor. Cape Porpoise has over the past few years lost a fair number of similar buildings due to neglect, which has resulted in the loss of some of that traditional character. I fully support the reconstruction of this building knowing that it will serve its intended purpose and help preserve our local fishing economy.”

Meanwhile, Eaton claims he has been subject to harassment from the Zukes.

On Aug. 29, the Kennebunkport Police Department issued a no trespassing order to the Zuke’s son, Wyatt, after an incident in which Eaton says he was skulking around his home, peeking in windows. Zuke has obeyed the order, although Eaton says he’s since been pestered by frequent visits from an aerial drone.

Eaton also points to the alleged construction cost of the new fish house, which he has pegged in public meetings at more that $200,000. That kind of outlay, he surmised, doesn’t leave much room for a return on investment if the sole purpose of the building is to aid in catching lobster, he says, suggesting some other future use or sale is in the offing.

In his quest to get the Zuke fish house torn down, Eaton said he is heartened by a similar property use war that has waged in town for the past few years.

“We have around 15 landowners plus perhaps 20 or so tangentially impacted parties that are monitoring and working on this issue, writing letters and so forth,” Eaton said. “The collective actions of the residents in Kennebunkport working on the Grist Mill issue gives us some ideas.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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