Ellsworth is considering restrictions that could prohibit anyone, including lakefront property owners, from keeping houseboats on local lakes overnight.
The proposal comes after the use of a floating structure on Green Lake drew the ire of shorefront property owners in the summers of 2020 and 2021.
Local residents Terry Pinkham and Jason Spinney do not own property on Green Lake, but for the past two summers they have used a public landing to access the lake and hang out with friends. They have made and used a floating one-room hang-out spot, which consists of a platform on two pontoons, a sliding glass door and a small roof deck.
Andrew Hamilton, who owns a summer home on Scott’s Neck Road, is one of several residents who has taken issue with the use of the floating structure, which they say has been the focus of gatherings that have been noisy and disruptive and has hurt their enjoyment of their homes. He said that with the growing popularity of unusual tourist accommodations, it’s just a matter of time before someone pursues a business opportunity out on Green Lake.
“You’re going to see overnight rentals,” Hamilton told members of the Ellsworth City Council as they discussed possible restrictions Monday night . “We’re seeing it now on the water [elsewhere]. I think you have to do something.”
Patty Hamilton, who is Andrew’s spouse and the public health director for the city of Bangor, told the council that several Maine towns already have adopted restrictions on overnight houseboat use, including Belgrade, Casco, Rangeley, Sindey, Wayne and Winthrop.
“Lots of communities are struggling with this very issue,” she said.
But Pinkham doesn’t think he should have to remove his floating room every night. He told the council he keeps an ice shack out on Green Lake in the winter, as do others who sometimes sleep in them overnight.
“I’ve never heard of anything being drafted like this,” Pinkham said.
But councilors seemed poised to consider the measure. Some suggested exemptions for lakefront property owners might be worth considering as well. And some would like the measure to include a flat ban on overnight rentals of houseboats.
“I live on the Union River,” said Councilor Casey Hanson, who likes the measure applying to all. “The river is not mine. I get to live near the river and to look at it, but I follow the same rules as everyone else on the river, and I think the lakes should be the same.”
If the city were to ban the overnight presence of houseboats on local lakes, enforcement could be done through its code enforcement office and its police department, with possible assistance from the fire department (which has a boat) and the Maine Warden Service, City Manager Glenn Moshier told the council. Other types of boats would not have to be removed at night from local lakes, according to the proposal.
The council voted to table the measure to give city staff more time to work on its possible wording, including what hours the ban would be in effect and what the city’s definition of a houseboat would be. The definition is expected to include references to sleeping, toilet and/or cooking facilities on boats or other floating structures.