Cap'n Fish's Waterfront Inn on Atlantic Avenue in Boothbay Harbor in this May 23, 2018, file photo. Credit: Bill Trotter

BOOTHBAY HARBOR, Maine — A nonprofit group formed to protect public access to the water announced Thursday that it has signed a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy Cap’n Fish Motel on the east side of Boothbay Harbor.

The property, combined with the adjacent Sea Pier property recently purchased by another nonprofit, makes Ken Fitch, president of the Stewards of Boothbay Harbor — soon to be renamed Boothbay Harbor Waterfront Preservation — confident that public access to the water and the working waterfront will be preserved despite increasing development pressures.

Earlier this year, developer Paul Coulombe, who has proposed rezoning the east side of the harbor — and much of the town’s Maritime Zone — into a limited commercial district, which would allow hotels, recreational marinas and housing, told the Lincoln County News that he had purchased Cap’n Fish’s Waterfront Inn and Cod’s Head Fish House & BBQ, and planned to keep them as a hotel and restaurant.

Coulombe then abruptly walked away from the deal, publishing a news release in the Boothbay Register in October that said he had invested $500,000 in nonrefundable deposits in order to build a $30 million “new hotel, restaurant and world-class conference center” on the Cap’n Fish’s property.

On Thursday, Fitch said his group approached John Fish about buying the waterfront property after Coulombe said he had lost interest.

Between the November purchase of the adjacent Sea Pier property by the Boothbay Region Maritime Foundation and the purchase of Cap’n Fish’s, Fitch said, “We’re going to have the heart of the east side — right smack in the middle of the east side.”

Fitch said Cap’n Fish’s will be open for the 2019 season, and then after the sale closes in November 2019, the two hotel buildings will be razed to create a park with protected public access to the harbor.

The historic white building closer to Atlantic Avenue will be maintained, he said.

The property’s south cement pier abuts working waterfront and has frequently been used by boaters to haul their motors out with a crane, Fitch said. That pier will be dedicated to working waterfront, and the north pier will be open space, he said.

According to Fitch, the board of BHWP is concerned that the rezoning proposal does not provide for any public access or open space on the east side of the harbor and significantly reduces the size of a “rigorously protected waterfront.”

But with Cap’n Fish’s under contract and the purchase of the adjacent Sea Pier, Fitch said he is confident that public access and working waterfront has been preserved.

As such, and along with recent restrictions on rebuilding imposed by the Department of Environmental Protection, Fitch said rezoning to “limited commercial” uses proposed to allow Brown’s Wharf Restaurant and Inn and Coulombe’s Boothbay Harbor Oceanside Country Club to expand are less concerning.

“If we can do this, we’ve struck a balance,” he said. “From the beginning I publicly asked for quid pro quo. If the developer wants to develop, there needs to be something in it for the town. For whatever reason, our town didn’t want to do that, didn’t think they could do that. That was our concern. This is a safety valve. We now have a place we can guarantee people can get down to the water and have working waterfront.”

Coulombe did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.