Casco: Campsite permit not legal

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — The incidences of this occur quite often. Yet, the stories are different.

Essentially, a property owner is allowed, often through local and state permitting, to park a self-contained recreation vehicle on a shoreland parcel that is less than an acre. Often, that RV remains there for more than seven months at a time or additional campers are parked on the lot — two activities that fly in the face of shoreland zoning laws.

The Town of Casco adopted the Shoreland Zoning Ordinances in 1971. From that point in time, campers that were already established on waterfront parcels were grandfathered in and allowed to permanently park one camper on the property. Also, it was allowable to replace the camper with a newer one, but never closer to the water than the previous location.

On Nov. 13, local resident Darren Brown came before the Casco Board of Selectmen asking for permission to use the property in the same manner he has been since he purchased the land in 2009.

Brown, the property owner — who was seeking to sell his parcel of less than an acre with the rights to fill in a camper pad and park an RV there — discovered the potential buyer could not continue these uses on the land.

This is because the previous owner had placed the camper on the parcel after 1971, after the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance had been adopted, according to Casco Code Enforcement Officer Don Murphy. The zoning permit that was issued to Brown should have not come from the code enforcement department but should have been approved by the Casco Planning Board, he said. The former CEO did not have the proper permit-granting authority — according to a table at the end of Shoreland Zoning Ordinances, he said.

Therefore, Murphy told Brown he could not legally issue him the permit. So, Brown sought the ears of local elected officials.

“It was an approved camper lot. Before I bought this property, I went to the town.

His (the previous Casco CEO) only statement was that it was approved for a camper site, and he asked me to scale back the fill, and stay 50 feet to 100 feet from water,” Brown explained.

“I have used the lot for three years. I have been taxed for the lot, for the structure for three years,” Brown said.

Following some discussion, the board tabled the item until the Dec. 11 meeting.

According to Acting Chairman Tracy Kimball, “My concern is that if we allow this property to be used in this manner, then we will set a precedent.”

The selectmen did ask questions about sewage disposal, and Brown said the camper was self-contained.

Plus, the board postponed the discussion because it wanted to have more time to review Brown’s proposed consent agreement as well as formulating additional questions.

During the November meeting, several abutters voiced concerns about Brown’s camp setup. Complaints were mostly about the appearance of the older model, dirty camper and the fence that stands out from the rest of the neighborhood. A few people cited environmental issues — particularly because the area is in a Natural Resources Protection (NRP) zone.

Murphy later said a bigger issue was that the camper was parked on wetlands.

“Wetlands are under his camper. Between his property and Sebago Lake are wetlands that act as a natural filtering system for the lake,” Murphy said.

The property owner has a pre-existing permit from the DEP, which is called a permit-by-rule in a NRP zone.

Individual private campsites are allowed in NRP zone if they meet required setbacks, and are granted by the local planning board, Murphy said.

According to the NRP Act, a state-issued permit does not supersede local ordinances, he said.

“The intent of the Shoreland Zoning law, it is meant to be environmentally protective, to quit developing lawns to the lakes and houses on top of each other,” Murphy said.

“Parts of development are meant to be rolled back,” he said.

“The Shoreland Zoning Ordinance forces rebuilding to move back away from the water. For example, if a house was burned down in a shoreland zone and nothing was built within a year, the property would never be able to be built on again. There is a sunset clause,” he said.

For the past several months, Murphy has forewarned the selectmen that many misuses of the shoreland zone properties are likely to appear on future agendas — particularly following this summer’s property re-assessing efforts. Employees of the firm hired by the town have been in the field, to visually assess waterfront properties. Therefore, the town has been noting violations and misinterpretations of the shoreland zoning ordinances, he said.

 

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