Great Northern Docks aims to buy town land


GREAT NORTHERN DOCKS needs zone change on it property, some of which is still zoned residential. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Land ho!

That is what the ship’s watch shouts to alert the crew when land is spotted in the distance.

Land ho!

That could sum up how Great Northern Docks has experienced a boom in business and has spotted town-owned land it would like to purchase for its needs.

Great Northern Docks (GND) owner Sam Merriam said he is interested in a 1.2-acre parcel uphill of the town’s sand shed. If the land sale were to occur, Merriam’s plans include putting a gravel area on the parcel. The land is desirable to GND because it would act as a buffer between the residential areas adjacent to his business, he said.

“It is mainly because we are abutting private residential property. When you are abutting noncommercial property, you need a 50-foot setback for a building. The 50-foot setback is pushing us more toward the middle of our lot. If we could own a little bit of land next door, it would provide a buffer,” he said.

However, Merriam does not expect the town land sale to appear as a warrant article during this town meeting in June. After discussing the matter with the Naples Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) Renee Carter, he learned the land purchase would be a lengthy process.

“The purchase – we don’t anticipate that to be in front of the town until another town meeting (in 2019) after this one,” Merriam said.

“It is going to take some time to get things in order — just to get that on the agenda for the town to vote on. It seems like we are biting off a lot to ask residents for the zone change and then ask them to consider selling a piece of land next door,” he said. “I don’t think the town has any motivation to sell it. If we could get it onto the agenda, I would like to. But, I have settled in my mind on having it happen later.”

Regarding the property where Great Northern Docks is located, a zone change is needed. That is an item that can only be approved by residents at an annual town meeting.

The parcel that is being discussed for purchase is zoned residential — it requires a zone change.

CEO Carter said that a zone change would need to occur.

“For Great Northern Docks, the state didn’t allow us to make that a commercial zone. So, there are commercial businesses put into a residential zone. When it goes to town meeting, we are going to try to make a wrong a right,” she said.

“There were a couple businesses that are in the residential zone. Great Northern Docks is in a residential zone. They have always been a commercial property. It makes sense for us to acknowledge it and do it right,” Carter said.

On Feb. 26, Naples Board of Selectmen Chairman Jim Grattelo said that GND had made an offer on a 1.12-acre parcel that is owned by the town. That evening, the selectmen voted to table the item until the town’s legal firm weighed in on the requirements for the sale of town-owned land.

“We cannot do this without going to town meeting,” Grattelo said.

The majority of residents at town meeting must okay any purchase of land by the town or sale of town-owned land. The exception to that would be the sale of tax-acquired land.

The selectmen had before them a map of the property and the piece of land that GND is proposing to buy. Selectman Bob Caron II had a couple questions.

“How would they access their property? What is wrong with their back lot property? Half of their lot is not being used for their own business,” Caron said.

Vice-chairman Kevin Rogers commented on the back section of the lot already owned by Great Northern.

“If you look at the topography, it is pretty steep,” Rogers said.

Merriam was not present at the selectmen’s meeting on Feb. 26.

However, at past meetings, he had stated it would be a big financial investment to develop the land because of the hill and the fill required. He had added he wanted to make sure the favorable upswing in the dock business was going to continue before making that investment.

“All the marinas, everybody in the boating industry, are showing signs of prosperity. There has been expansion in the boating industry. I am not a boat dealer, but my industry is the same,” Merriam said.

“I have steady sales in the Lakes Region, but my sales outside the area are growing. I am shipping more products further away,” he said, citing shipments to Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and California.

Earlier this year, a trail company that contracted GND to do boardwalks for a nature trail prompted Merriam to find more space. In January, Merriam came before the selectmen to ask for a lease negotiation of a few hundred square feet of land behind the town’s sand shed. That space was needed to store material on a short-term basis. Also, by municipal law, Merriam and then-interim Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz were allowed to enter into a lease agreement.

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