Zoning for Access
Government & Public Entities More on...
Toolbox image

Coastal Access Toolkit
What planning process exists for securing access in waterfront towns? More...

Law Books image

Common Law & Statutes
For information about land ownership and More...

Zoning for Access

Zoning and other land use regulations are most effective when a community is able to take a comprehensive approach to its access needs. For example, a shoreline access plan might be part of a larger water-dependent use zoning scheme for a region.

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 be used to 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 system designed to compensate a developer restricted by a particular zoning regulation. Land is protected by transferring the "rights to develop" from one area and giving them to another. What is actually occurring is placement of conservation easements on property in certain coastal areas while allowing for an increase in development densities or "bonuses" in other areas that are being developed. The costs of purchasing the easements are recovered from the developers who receive the building bonus elsewhere. TDRs tend to be successful only where there is a strong market for the traded development rights.

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, incompatible 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.