5. LAND USE
Westport is a long, narrow island, whose northern end is about a mile south of the center of Wiscasset, on the Sheepscot River. The island runs roughly north-south. The Sheepscot divides around the island, with the main channel, the Sheepscot River proper, flowing down its eastern side. The Sheepscot maintains a depth of about 70 feet as it flows past Westport, and is never narrower than about one quarter mile. On the western side of the island, the Sheepscot becomes the Back River, a much shallower though usually broader body of water. About halfway down the island, the Back River flows into the Sasanoa River, which continues southward along past Westport's southern end. Most, though by no means all, of the boat traffic passing along the island uses the deeper and more navigable Sheepscot, on the eastern side. All of the waters surrounding Westport are salt, with a tidal rise of about 10 feet.
Geologically speaking, Westport owes its existence to the long spine of bedrock which forms it and which runs down its length, a distance of about 11 miles (Westport is the longest undivided island in the State). Where ledge is not exposed on the surface, soil is typically quite shallow, ranging in depth from several inches to several feet in most places. The northern six miles or so of the island are quite narrow, extending from about one quarter to one mile in width. There is an appreciable broadening on the southern end, so that the island's width reaches as much as one and a half to two miles in some places. On the northern end, the central ridge is about 100 feet above sea level at its highest points. At the southern end, one hill reaches 150 feet. Approaches to the water on the western side are generally gradual, but are often precipitous on the Sheepscot side. Westport's land area is 8.73 square miles, or about 5,587 acres.
Westport is connected to the mainland by a single, high span, two lane bridge on State Route 144, which crosses the Back River from Wiscasset at a point about one and one half miles south of the island's northern end. Route 144 then curves south down the length of the island, until it reaches Westport's southern extremity nine miles later. Route 144 is the island's main traffic artery. A fact of life on Westport is the island's proximity to the Maine Yankee nuclear power station in Wiscasset, located just across the Back River, about three miles down the island from its northern end. The proximity to the plant may have inhibited growth in the past. While the plant has ceased operations, Maine Yankee stores high level nuclear waste on the site.
Westport's population according to US Census figures for 2000 is 745 persons. This gives an average population density of 84 persons per square mile, or .13 persons per acre. This compares with 59 per square mile for the neighboring town of Edgecomb. As indicated on the Housing and Subdivisions Map, Westport's residences are not distributed evenly. The northern quarter of the island is almost completely subdivided, and many lots have been built on. Other groups of homes are found in the central part of the island along Route 144 and the nearby eastern shore area. On the island's southern end, there is a long string of homes along the Sheepscot shore area, and small groups in the coves on the Sasanoa side.
However Westport does not have an area that would clearly qualify as a village center. Near approximations are a small group of houses near the Fire House and the Town Office on Route 144, about four miles down the island from the northern end, and another small group near the Town Hall and adjacent Community Church about three miles further south. While there are a number of small businesses scattered about the island, there is nothing that could be called a commercial center.
During the summer of 2001, the selectmen conducted a count and determined that there are about 540 structures on the island and roughly 800 parcels of land. The term “structure” is meant to include dwellings and commercial buildings, but not accessory buildings such as barns or sheds.
Based on an analysis of historical development trends conducted by the Lincoln County Planner, there were 124 principal structures in 1891; 134 in 1941; 154 in 1957; and 215 in 1970. Since there are now about 540 structures, it is clear that the most significant period of growth in Westport has occurred during the past three decades, when structures were added at a rate of about 10.5 structures per year, compared to slightly more than one structure per year between 1891 and 1970. There are several characteristics of the Town’s growth over the past 30 years:
1. There have been only a few subdivisions of consequence in Westport since 1970, but there has been a substantial increase in the number of lots, many of which have not been reviewed as part of a subdivision.
2. There are now 260 vacant parcels. While not all are suitable for or intended for development, many could be improved with homes in the coming years. Even if additional lots are not created, the Town will continue to grow.
3. Since 1970, there has been a proliferation of lots with frontage on Route 144, many of which have not yet been developed. Route 144 still maintains an attractive and relatively rural appearance.
There are an appreciable number of people who summer on Westport. In the year 2000, 34% of all housing on the island was seasonal, amounting to about 174 homes. Some of these are primarily for weekend use. Although reliable data is not available, on the average, over the course of the summer, seasonal residents might amount to about a quarter of the island's population. Many of these people have been summering on Westport for years, and blend in easily with the year round population. Given the paucity of public services here, it can scarcely be said that they represent much pressure on Westport's facilities. However, they do avail themselves of some of the island's drinking water resources, and do increase the burden of septic waste the island must absorb. At the same time, they represent a smaller drain on the island's limited water and sewage disposal resources than full time residents on that land would create. The seasonal residents are, in any case, a factor to be considered in plans for Westport's future growth. The conversion of seasonal dwellings to year-round use has not been a problem. In recent years, there have been fewer conversions. Most of the older cottages have been replaced by newer homes.
There are about 62 small businesses active on Westport. Most are one or two person enterprises. The largest of these include the Squire Tarbox Inn, which employs up to 12 persons during the summer season; and G and D Construction firm, which employs a total of about 5 persons. In addition to these two firms, there are an additional 45 or so persons running businesses on or around the island (see Economy section). There is no industry on the island.
Most of these business activities operate out of the owners’ homes, and they are scattered up and down the island. At this stage of the island's development, there is no existing section of Westport that could in any sense be considered a commercial area.
As discussed earlier in the section dealing with Westport's Economy, there is virtually no tourist business on the island, with the single exception of the Squire Tarbox Inn and Restaurant.
Since 1974 there has been little change in the commercial use of land or the business use of buildings, although the number of small, mostly home-based businesses has grown from 23 in 1991 to 62 in 2001. This is due in part to the geographical location which makes property on Westport less than ideal for business purposes, and in part to the relatively high cost of taxes, services, and transportation compared to surrounding communities.
Most commercial users on Westport are confined to Route 144 and are in homes or in combination with dwelling units.
In the Comprehensive Planning Committee’s 2001 Survey, respondents generally supported limited commercial use of property, but they also supported a site plan review process for non-residential uses, as well as the rural nature of the community. The Town’s preferences indicate that we should allow the retention, expansion, or creation of small businesses provided:
1. The scale and intensity of the business activity is in keeping with the rural character of the Town.
2. The businesses do not overtax either the Town's natural resources or roads.
3. The use is carried out in a way which protects neighboring properties from adverse impacts from noise, odors, drainage, or visual factors.
Despite the undoubted rural character of Westport, agriculture of a commercial nature is virtually non-existent on the island. Animal husbandry is limited to a herd of sheep at the Squire Tarbox Inn.
There is no regular commercial forestry activity on Westport. Some residents participate in the Maine State Tree Growth Program. State figures for the year 2000 indicate that a total of 16 parcels of land consisting of 586 acres (about 10% of the land area of the Town) were in Tree Growth on Westport: 217 acres of softwood, 72 acres of hardwood, and 298 acres of mixed hard/softwood.
The Town of Westport owns the Town Hall, and owns or controls several tracts of land. These include the approximately one-acre lot on which the Town Hall is located. A five-acre plot next to the Fire House was donated to the Town to permit enlarging the Fire House and as a site for the new Town Office. The Town also owns the 7.1 acre Clough Point tract on the northern end of the island, deeded to Westport for recreation use; this section includes 1,200 feet of shoreland along the Back River. Westport also owns an additional five or six acres in small pieces scattered about the northern end of the island. The Town also owns the land making up its 19.5 miles of town road, amounting to about 64 acres. This includes the old Ferry Road, which dead-ends at the Back River, thus providing public access to the water for boating.
Most of the island's residents live on small plots of land of less than 6 acres in size. A review of the Property Map shows that some of the larger tracts include prime waterfront footage. Although some of the land in these larger tracts is occupied by ponds and wetlands, and some is too steep or could not meet septic waste disposal criteria, and thus could not be built on, it is clear that there is still attractive real estate available on the island that could be subdivided and developed.
The Maine Historic Preservation Commission has identified three types of archaeological or historic sites in Westport:
1. Pre-historic Archaeological Sites. Westport has twelve pre-historic archaeological sites. All are shell middens (heaps) located on the Sheepscot River in the shoreland zone. Seven of these sites are not considered significant. Of the remaining five, not enough is known about three of them to make a determination, but two may be eligible for the National Register.
2. Historical Archaeological Sites. The Town’s single historic archaeological site is Fort McDonough (1814). This was in the form of a five-pointed star. These works were constructed of earth and logs and mounted with sixteen pounders. A ship trying to pass between Fort Edgecomb and Fort McDonough would have had to make several tacks before getting on a course to make Wiscasset Harbor. If a landing in force were made against McDonough, the guns would have been spiked and the men would have moved to Edgecomb protective works.
3. Historic Buildings, Structures, Objects. There are two buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Squire Tarbox House, located on Route 144, and the Josiah K. Parsons Homestead, located on Greenleaf Cove Road. In addition, both the Westport Community Church and the Westport Town Hall have been determined to be eligible to be listed in the Register. The Town Hall was built around 1800 as a church, was acquired by the Town in 1885, and has been used as a Town Hall since that time.
There are places where old saw mills and grist mills powered by water once stood, but except for old pilings, nothing remains today.
2. Minimum Lot Size Ordinance. For area outside the Shoreline Zone, this ordinance sets various minimum dimensional requirements, including 1 1/2 acre lot size for single family dwellings, 1 1/2 acres for each family living unit for 2 family or multiple residential dwellings, and 3 acres for commercial and industrial structures.
3. Building Code Ordinance. This ordinance regulates construction, location, relocation, and replacement of structures including requirements for permits, minimum lot sizes, building standards, appeals and variances.
4. Cluster Residential Development. This ordinances permits the Planning Board to approve cluster residential developments in all residential districts, provided that overall residential density does not exceed the density that would be permitted if lots conformed to district requirements, and that no individual lot size be reduced to less than 50% of that required by the district.
5. Subdivision Standards and Procedure. This ordinance establishes criteria for the review and approval of minor (3 to 5 lots) and major (more than 5 lots) subdivisions.
6. Mobile Home Ordinance. This ordinance establishes minimum standards governing the construction, operation, maintenance, and inspection of mobile home parks, including issuance of permits; inspections; location, space, and general layout; roadways, service buildings, sanitation, electricity, alterations and additions.
Westport's unique character is an amalgam of factors. Westport is a small island, isolated in numerous ways from the mainland. The sense of separation is heightened by the fact that the link to the mainland is a single bridge. Despite the fact that there is no commercial agriculture practiced on Westport, the appearance and atmosphere are rural, partly because of the abundance of wooded areas, partly because of the scattered placement and low density of homesites, partly because there are very few signs of commercial activity, partly because there are few multifamily buildings, and partly because there are no developments with streets and homes that are obviously laid out on a grid. If this rural character is to be preserved, then future development on the island will have to be carried out in ways which will minimize damage to the factors that make up that character.
The section dealing with population gives some indication of how rapidly Westport has grown since 1960. Some residents are concerned that population growth, if allowed to continue, will mean the end of Westport's unique atmosphere. Others believe that some change is inevitable and that nothing should be done to check growth. Most would agree that continued growth of the island's population is probably inevitable and that the Town should take some steps to protect those aspects of Westport's character which residents would like to see preserved as far into the future as possible.
As the data presented earlier in the section dealing with Westport's economy make clear, there are sharp financial limits to what Westport can undertake. For the reasons discussed earlier, tourism will probably never provide much public revenue for Westport. Given the island's somewhat isolated situation, commercial activities that could generate tax revenues of any consequence are unlikely to be established here. The cost of land, pushed up by the proximity to water, is now probably too high to make it cost-effective for even light industry to settle here. Westport is basically a bedroom community, with most of its residents earning their income on the mainland. The factors which have created this situation are unlikely to change. For all of these reasons, the single significant source of public revenue is likely to remain property taxes. Unfortunately these have reached a very high level on Westport, as in other Maine communities. From 1970 to 2000, taxes on property in the Town of Westport have gone up by a factor of 7.8, from $51,645 to $988,839. During that same period, the population went up by a factor of 3.3, from 228 to 745. That is, during this thirty-year period, town property taxes went up about 19 times, while the population that had to carry those taxes increased only about 3 times.
The factors mentioned above - the island's limited land area and population, its isolation, the fact that it is primarily, though not exclusively, a bedroom community for residents employed in surrounding towns on the mainland, that it lacks any commercial, agricultural, or forestry base of its own, and finally, its very limited financial resources - these factors suggest that the island's growth management needs are likely to be less complex than those of some of the surrounding towns, and, since financial resources are so limited, they must be carefully prioritized. The principal goals, as they relate to land use, would be:
· Protection of the island's rural, non-commercial character.
· Protection of the island's water supply and the carrying capacity of the land.
· Protection of the island's environmental assets, including the rivers which surround it.
· Reasonable regulation of commercial and residential development to protect against damage to the above goals.
According to the Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Regulation Act, Westport's Comprehensive Plan must identify and designate at least two basic types of geographic areas: Growth Areas and Rural Areas.
· Growth Areas are defined in the Act as "those areas suitable for orderly residential, commercial and industrial development forecast over the next 10 years," and
· Rural Areas "are those areas where protection should be provided for agricultural, forest, open space and scenic lands within the municipality."
The Act also states that “A municipality is not required to identify growth areas for residential growth if it demonstrates that it is not possible to accommodate future residential growth in these areas because of severe physical limitations, including, without limitation, the lack of adequate water supply and sewage disposal services, very shallow soils or limitations imposed by protected natural resources; or if it demonstrates that the municipality has experienced minimal or no residential development over the past decade and this condition is expected to continue over the 10-year planning period. A municipality exercising the discretion afforded by this paragraph shall review the basis for its demonstration during the periodic revisions undertaken pursuant to section 4327.”
Land use planning for Westport must be consistent with existing state legislation, and must be tailored to meet the island's situation and its needs, as they can be foreseen over the next decade. There is a wide range of views among Westport residents about what directions land use planning should take, and the degree to which land use planning should be allowed to infringe upon a land owner's right to do with his property as he sees fit. The views and desires of the residents of Westport must be given due consideration in determining the objectives of the Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Regulation Act. For Westport, the division into Growth Areas and Rural Areas would be quite arbitrary because of the Town’s physical limitations.
The island has no commercial agricultural or forest activities to protect. To limit the size of the Growth Area would be to group all new residential construction for the next decade into a single small area or group of areas. There is no compelling justification for such concentrated development. There is no "town center" in Westport, around which most new residential construction could naturally be grouped. There are no town facilities to speak of that could be more efficiently used if new residential construction were more tightly grouped. On the contrary, grouping new construction in this way would only tend to increase the pressure on the underground fresh water supply in the area selected, as well as to increase the ever present risk of pollution of the fresh water supply by concentrating septic waste disposal systems in a limited area. The Town’s 2001 Aquifer Delineation and Soil Carrying Capacity study documents the limitations of the islands soils and ground water to support intense development. For the most part, the soils on Westport have severe limitations for subsurface sewage disposal systems. Ground water is limited in many areas and can easily be contaminated. The Town has no public water supply or sewer system, and, because of the distance and cost, it would be impractical to extend such services from Wiscasset into Westport.