The York River as seen in this Portsmouth Herald file photo. Credit: Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald

A York man has spearheaded a petition to remove language from the harbor ordinance that places strictures on the length of docks on the York River, and he’s amassed enough signatures to put the matter on the May ballot.

Selectmen will hold a public hearing Jan. 28 on the petition of Paul Radochia, 5 Mill Dam Road, after he collected 131 certified signatures, 31 more than the required 100.

The petition, if it becomes law, has the potential to free up the entire river to dock or pier structures as long as state guidelines are followed. Radochia went the petition route after about a year of discussions with the Harbor Board. Ultimately, the sides disagreed on the proper action to take on his request to install a dock on the edge of his riverfront home.

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The current harbor ordinance permits piers, docks and wharves west of Sewall’s Bridge “only in areas where the low water channel is 50 feet or less from the high water mark.” In the more congested area east of the bridge, where Radochia lives, these structures are allowed “only in areas where the low water channel is 84 feet or less from the high water mark.”

The ordinance, said board chairman David Webber, “doesn’t directly speak to the length of the docks themselves, but it has the effect of limiting the length,” he said. The dock or pier would fall within that 84-foot length, but then a ramp and float is added to the end, bringing the overall length to about 125 feet, he said.

“You want the end of the pier from dry land to be above the high water mark. You don’t want it to be underwater. And you want your float floating in the water. Those are the two constraints,” he said.

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Webber said Radochia offered two potential dock locations: 123 feet high to low and 115 feet high to low. “Then you add a ramp and a float and you’re much closer to 150 feet,” Webber said.

But Radochia has a different view. For one thing, state law does not allow a dock that impedes traffic in the river channel. York’s ordinance regarding pier length is not required by state law, although the state allows any municipality to enact stricter measures. “I don’t know how many properties would qualify under the current rules to get docks,” he said. “Of all the docks, except one, none protrude in the channel.”

And yet, he said, his analysis shows the average length of docks east of Sewall’s Bridge is 143 feet, although he agrees many of them predate the ordinance. “The docks are here, none are interfering with navigation, they’re not encroaching on the channel and they’re not eyesores,” he said.

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Radochia added in order to get to the river from his property with kayaks or rowboats, “we have to walk through fragile marsh and eel grass and traverse a mud bank. You’re doing damage to the environment. It’s not responsible,” he said. “The answer is to have an environmentally friendly, safe for navigation dock so we can go in and out of the river.”

The Harbor Board, said Webber, is not averse to changing the ordinance, and told Radochia so. “But we do not want to make any changes until, one, the impact of the change could be quantified. Are we adding 10 docks? 20? 30? And two, once we know that number, we need to conduct a study to determine the York River is capable of handling that kind of traffic.”

He said the board “is concerned the river is nearing, at or over capacity.” The board has spoken with selectmen about a town-sponsored study, and funding might also come from a York River Wild and Scenic grant once the river is accepted into the program.

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In response, Radochia said, “Anyone who has riverfront property already is getting boats in the river one way or another. They may have a mooring nearby and drag their dinghy to it or it’s at the marina,” he said. “This is more about convenient and safe access, and the rights of property owners who pay high taxes to have a dock.”

He said he attempted to work with the Harbor Board and Board of Selectmen, “and for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. So, we respectfully parted ways and I decided to go the petition route.”

Town Manager Steve Burns said selectmen are required by town charter to hold a public hearing and put citizens petitions on the ballot.

“The way I look at it, it’s a policy disagreement. It’s a legitimate choice to be decided,” he said.