Planners give thumbs up to Blount Boats ‘tent’

Marcia Blount walks in a Blount Boats bay. Behind her is a new ferry boat that will spend its life in Casco Bay, Maine. Marcia Blount walks in a Blount Boats bay. Behind her is a new ferry boat that will spend its life in Casco Bay, Maine.

Marcia Blount walks in a Blount Boats bay. Behind her is a new ferry boat that will spend its life in Casco Bay, Maine.

Marcia Blount walks in a Blount Boats bay. Behind her is a new ferry boat that will spend its life in Casco Bay, Maine.

A plan to build what amounts to a 44-foot tall tent on the Warren River shoreline took a step forward Monday night, when the Warren Planning Board signed off on the application submitted by Blount Boats.

The boat-building outfit wants to build the large tent structure to help finish boats under construction at the thriving yard. Officials said they need it to help compete for building contracts for smaller boats, saying it will come in handy for finishing vessels and installing pilot houses out of the weather. The building, which would be made of a steel framework under canvas attached to a concrete foundation, would be 150 feet long by 55 feet wide and would sit on top of the “ways,” the long steel rails upon which Blount workers launch boats into the river. Blount president Marcia Blount said the building is needed to help the business stay viable:

“Instead of contracts for two 150-foot vessels, we now have a contract for multiple 50-foot crew boats,” she said. “It is a continual challenge for a small family-owned company to adjust to the economy and to the variety of boats that we actively bid on. A tent will help keep us healthy and efficient.”

The building’s 44-foot height would exceed the maximum height allowed in Warren by nine feet, though it wouldn’t even be the tallest building on the Blount complex — another there rises to 47 feet. The 44-foot height is needed because the main building shop rises to just 35 feet, which is too low to install many of the complicated mast arrays and pilot houses called for under new contracts.

One of the main concerns with neighbors was the nature of the building itself, which as a modular structure made of steel framing and canvas, does not qualify as a building under Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations and thus cannot be insured by the agency’s flood insurance program. Some residents, including long-time neighbor Ida Hoffma, expressed concern that the structure could come apart in a storm or could cause FEMA to “look away” from the waterfront.

“How frightened am I supposed to be?” asked Ms. Hoffma, who has lived at 492 Water St. for 62 years. “I really wouldn’t want something that is not compatible or shouldn’t be done. I ask that you (the board) be very careful in looking into things.”

In response, several engineers hired by Blount said the structure has built-in safety features designed to protect it in the event of a storm surge or high winds, including detachable canvas sections on the bottom 10 feet that would let the surge pass through easily. Though it will be secured to a concrete foundation and is more or less a permanent structure, Ms. Blount said it could be removed one day.

“If we were to get a contract” for a large vessel, “she would go on the ways and we would probably have to take down the tent,” she said. “We need the tent for certain things now, but we could sell it if we didn’t. We’re not necessarily wedded to it being there forever.”

After about 90 minutes of discussion, the planning board signed off on the new building 8-0, saying the Blount yard fits in with Warren’s vision for the waterfront, as spelled out in the town’s Comprehensive Plan:

“This certainly meets any definition of a working waterfront that I can think of,” board chairman Fred Massie said of Blount Boats. “The argument that Warren should be a tourist town to me holds no water. This (building) to me is an excellent means by which we can ensure the town has a good tax base that remains paid for by businesses.”

Specifically, the planning board voted to recommend to the Warren Zoning Board that that board approve a special use permit for the building, and also provide dimensional relief from the town’s zoning ordinance for the height (too tall) and lot coverage (total lot coverage and rear yard setback variances are both needed). The zoning board will meet next week to discuss the variances and special use permits. Even if zoners approve the project, there will still be a long way to go before the building goes up, including review by the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC).

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