Both sides of the waterfront park dispute say they have the best interests of Boothbay Harbor's residents in mind.
John O'Connell (left) and David Flanagan (right) pose for a portrait outside the Boothbay Harbor Eastside Waterfront Park. O'Connell is the president, and Flanagan is on the advisory board. Issues with permits, licensing and litigation have led to the delaying the park's construction since 2021. Credit: Jules Walkup / BDN

BOOTHBAY HARBOR, Maine — Nearly five years ago, a group of residents in this tourist haven assembled to build an oceanfront park.

Both the supporters and the couple with a home next to the site say they have the town’s best interests in mind. They also seem to have the same goal: finishing a park the community of more than 2,000 people can enjoy.

Yet this is a tale of revoked permits, amended plans and legal action. The abutters, Joe and Jill Doyle, have alerted the Boothbay Harbor Select Board about differences between what was authorized and what was built, meaning the waterfront park board must now either change permits or plans.

The park at 65 Atlantic Ave. is slated to be a 1.36-acre space where people can sit on a green lawn, moor their boats on the public marina, children can play on a splash pad, people can shop in the general store and watch the attached working waterfront. There are two piers to the harbor — one for the fishermen and lobstermen to the south, and a public one to the north. There are also plans to host small, occasional events at the park, said John O’Connell, president of the Eastside Waterfront Park board.

But right now, the park is under construction. The working waterfront is up and running, but otherwise, the north pier’s new floats are on dry land, waiting to be put in. Small patches of grass dot the lawn after being hydroseeded. Pavers, yet to be installed, are stacked alongside the property. The proposed boathouse connected to the working waterfront has yet to be raised six feet to prepare for rising sea levels.

Both sides of the waterfront park dispute say they have the best interests of Boothbay Harbor's residents in mind.
The Eastside Waterfront Park in Boothbay Harbor is pictured with the property of the abutters, Joe and Jill Doyle, in the background. The Doyles have filed legal complaints against the park due to discrepancies in permits, arguing for a safe and green park. The park’s construction has been delayed since 2021. Credit: Jules Walkup / BDN

The project has been stalled since 2021 in one of the latest sagas over development along the Maine coast in a town that has had tension on the subject before. This one is different because it is between allies and over green space, not housing or a sweeping new business.

“We’ve had difficulty with an abutter who shall be nameless because I’m too polite to name them,” O’Connell said.

The Doyles are the only abutters.

They bought the property because they knew the park was being built, but did not specify what year they bought it. Joe Doyle and his wife were early donors to the effort, expecting a lot of green space, benches and trees.

When they returned to their property in Boothbay Harbor in summer 2021, Joe Doyle and his wife were surprised by what they saw out their window: the allegedly $250,000 concrete splash pad that the waterfront park put in.

“So we could spend a quarter of a million dollars on an unpermitted splash pad and not a nickel on trees or grass,” Joe Doyle said.

“And it’s just going to be like one kid in a diaper,” Jill Doyle chimed in.

When O’Connell was asked about the price of the waterfront park splash pad, he declined to provide it. The splash pad was permitted by the Boothbay Harbor Planning Board to be up to around 25 feet in diameter, and the wet portion of the pad is 26 feet in diameter, O’Connell said.

O’Connell believed the park had all its ducks in a row. But, in October 2021, Scott Anderson, the Doyles’ previous lawyer, filed a letter announcing administrative appeal to the Boothbay Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals. The letter noted that the splash pad was much larger than originally filed for and set back further from the shore, an application was filed for a general store and apartments without a narrative of the potential impacts of them, and that since the park exists entirely within the shoreland zoning district, it should be reviewed by the Boothbay Harbor Planning Board under the shoreland zoning regulations.

After years of review and litigation, the Board of Appeals in March granted the Doyles an appeal of a Planning Board decision related to the shoreland zoning ordinances and parking area for the park, the Boothbay Register reported. The park board requested a reconsideration of the appeal, but it was denied. The Boothbay Register reported that the park’s lawyer said since the conflict was over four parking spaces, the entire park shouldn’t be denied.

“It’s a park, for Pete’s sake,” O’Connell said.

The briefs for the appeal were submitted by both parties in July. No decision has been issued.

The Doyles are pro-park. What they don’t want, though, is a commercial development with a bunch of buildings and infrastructure. The Doyles’ main concerns are the amount of green space — they request 20 percent impervious surfaces — the safe disposal of the gray water from the splash pad, which was originally proposed to be discharged into the harbor, and the safety of the north pier.

O’Connell said most of that is, or is being, taken care of. On Monday, the lawn was hydroseeded, leaving about 30 percent impervious surfaces. O’Connell said the park board has plans to renovate the pylons under the north pier so they’re safe. And O’Connell claimed the water from the splash pad is not gray water.

Kristin Collins, the Doyles’ current attorney, said the Boothbay Harbor waterfront park cannot continue for now because the permits were taken away.

But construction there is moving forward with aspects unrelated to the permits. In early July, new floats were put in at the working waterfront. O’Connell is waiting on permits to go through to put new floats in the north pier where the public marina will be.

“We’re cautiously optimistic, but there is absolutely no doubt in our minds that we will get the park completed, whenever that is,” O’Connell said. “Even if some of us have to die off before that happens, it will still proceed.”

Jules Walkup is a Report for America corps member. Additional support for this reporting is provided by BDN readers.

Jules Walkup reports on the midcoast and is a Report for America corps member. They graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism and moved to Maine from Tampa, Florida in July 2023.