Home Storage Of Fishing Gear Dredged Up Anew

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Commercial fishing and shellfishing

Lobster pots stored off Morris Island Road in Chatham. The Orleans Planning Board is wrestling with how to enforce a requirement for a special permit for residential storage of fishing gear. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS Thirty-five years ago, Chatham Town Counsel Frank Shealey rose in Barnstable Superior Court to declare that the town “since time immemorial has been a seacoast town. Other than for tourism, fishing is our largest industry. The fishermen have a pier and a mooring...that's all. The restraints were addressed in the bylaw which allows lobster pots to be stored under home occupation with issuance of a special permit.”

A year later, noting that storage of pots “has been customary from time immemorial,” a Superior Court judge reaffirmed the Chatham Zoning Board's decision to grant a special permit over the objections of some in lobsterman John Koski's residential neighborhood. The Koski decision was cited two years later, when the Chatham board granted a special permit to a landscaping business in a similar setting.

“There are probably hundreds of situations like this in town,” Chatham ZBA vice chair John Linebaugh observed at the time. “If they all came to light, we'd be a busy board.”

That indeed may be the fate of the Orleans Zoning Board of Appeals following a discussion by the town's planning board prompted by a request for advice from Orleans Building Commissioner Tom Evers. He sought guidance on a section of the zoning bylaws called “Customary or Self-employed Home Occupation,” specifically regarding storage of fishing equipment.

“Does the definition relate to any and all fishing equipment such as lobster pots, rods and reels, rope lines, marking buoys, fishing boat or boats, boat trailers and trailers for the moving of traps and/or storage containers?” Evers asked. “This would require all of the small business fishermen who have traditionally kept traps, boats and other equipment in their yards to obtain a special permit for a customary or self-employed home occupation.” Evers also asked whether a special permit was required for storage in the absence of “storage, processing or sale of actual fish or shellfish being done on the property.”

In an echo of Chatham ZBA vice chair Linebaugh's 1986 remark, Evers closed thus: “It is my intention to enforce the bylaw in a fair and equitable manner, but please know that such enforcement could have broad application around the town.”

“Fishing has always been an important industry in Orleans,” Orleans Planning Board vice chair Chet Crabtree said Aug. 14. “We don't want to discourage those who fish. On the other hand...there are people who have multiple boats and lobster pots stacked up quite high in the face of neighbors. I've heard complaints from other homeowners.” The town has not been aggressive in requiring special permits for such storage, and some may have “abused that laxness,” Crabtree said.

“This bylaw has been in place since 1978,” Planning and Community Development Director George Meservey said of the rule that requires a special permit for storage of commercial fishing equipment on residential property. “I don't know of any special permits.” Noting that there may be 200 to 300 potential commercial fishermen who store some materials, he said “it may be that a violator needs to be reined back and given a special permit with limits.”

Under due process of law, Crabtree said, “you cannot require a special permit of egregious violators but not the ones that are reasonable. Either everybody has to have one or nobody has to. How you enforce (the bylaw) is a different issue.”

Tom Johnson suggested sending a letter to anyone who's abusing the privilege. “Try to get 'em to rein back in a little bit in a kinder, gentler way,” he said. “Give them an opportunity to get their act together. Don't come out firing.”

Board members considered reviewing the bylaw with an eye to changes. “We could suggest a revision that applies to fishing equipment and boats, that says 'something not visible to the public,'” Crabtree suggested.

Members agreed to advise Evers that commercial storage of fishing gear in a residential zone does indeed require a special permit, and to look into the broader question of how to mesh customary or self-employed home occupations with strictly residential uses.

“We need to address this so we don't become an anti-fishing town,” Richard Hartmann said.

“Or an anti-agriculture town,” chair Andrea Reed added.