Acquiring Access
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Zoning for Access

  • Zoning can be done at any level of government.
  • Zoning and other land use regulations are most effective when a community is able to take a comprehensive approach to its access needs.
  • States and municipalities alike typically designate certain districts of waterfront which are then subject to regulations restricting development to water-dependent uses. These regulations often include a variety of tax incentives designed to reduce costs to maritime industries, increase costs for non-water-dependent uses, and encourage capital investment in working waterfront enterprises. For example, a shoreline access plan might be part of a larger water-dependent use zoning scheme for a region. More on water-dependent uses.

What zoning tools are available to address access needs?

Incentive/bonus zoning is a technique that allows developers to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for providing specific public benefits, such as physical access to the shore. For example, allowing a slightly higher density of houses or multi-use zoning in an area where the developer sets aside land for conservation and perhaps for a path to the ocean.

Zoning ordinances can be very flexible to address the needs of a specific community. They can include the following:

  • Water-dependent use zoning and/or marine zones can establish districts that give preference to commercial fishing or other maritime activities.

  • Special Permit Zoning (also called incentive zoning, bonus zoning, conditional use, special use, special exception) allows certain uses, prohibits others, and allows a third group of uses only by special permit. For instance, an area could be zoned for water-dependent uses only, with special permits for water-enhanced uses such as restaurants.

  • Contract zoning (also called a development agreement) is a bilateral agreement authorized by Maine law in which a landowner contracts with local government to apply deed restrictions to a property in exchange for a desired zone change. Contract zoning differs from special permit zoning in that contract zoning can be applied to individual parcels within a zone, and thus is more flexible. Contract zoning is usually used for the development of complex, multi-phase projects. Developers are permitted to develop a project under existing regulations, with the knowledge that future zoning changes or development regulations will not apply to their project. Developers may concede more in exchange for the security this provides. These agreements are not considered exactions because they are voluntary; the developer agrees to concessions in order to rezone a particular area (not simply get a permit under existing zoning laws).

  • Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) is a technique for guiding growth away from sensitive resources and toward controlled development centers through the transfer of development rights from one area to another. In this case, development rights in coastal areas would be restricted by the town and the landowner would be compensated for the restriction. The town would then recover the cost of the restriction by selling the development rights to developers in other specially designated areas, allowing them to develop more densely than they otherwise would be permitted.

  • Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a method of financing redevelopment projects that is directly tied to the success of those project. The goal is to make an economically depressed area more attractive to private developers, to generate new and rising tax revenues. Tax increment financing uses this increase in tax revenue to finance the improvements and activities that make redevelopment occur in the designated district. To do this, the local government determines the property tax revenue it is collecting in the district before redevelopment occurs. The local government then borrows money, with loans or by the sale of bonds. The borrowed funds are used in various ways to improve the development prospects of the area: loans to new businesses, capital improvements, new services such as improved street cleaning and security patrols, advertising and marketing. As development occurs in the area, tax revenue increases, and the excess above pre-redevelopment property tax revenue in the area is used to pay off the loans or bonds and to finance further redevelopment activities. That excess is the “tax increment” in tax increment financing.

    Coastal public access provisions could be included as a requirement of a designated TIF district, provided the landowner is being compensated for turning over land or easements to the government in exchange for a lowering of tax payments for many years. This is based on the premise that the compensation for the public access must be "just”, in order to avoid a takings claim.

How much of the Maine coast is zoned for water-dependent use?

According to a 2007 survey by the Island Institute, within the 142 coastal towns and 5,300 miles that make up the coast of Maine, 1,555 points provide saltwater access. This access includes everything from public boat landings and municipal rights-of-way, to boatyards, marinas and private fishing docks. It includes both ocean and estuarine access. Of the 1,555 saltwater access points, 888 (57%) support commercial fishing activities. Of these 888 access points, 66% are privately owned and thus vulnerable to conversion to other uses. Only 81 access points qualify as "prime working waterfront," and only 62 of these currently support commercial fishing. Only 446 (29%) of the 1,555 saltwater access points in 45 of Maine's 142 coastal towns are currently protected under some type of water-dependent use zoning.