Monday, July 09, 2007

The Way Life Should Be?

I'm no huge fan of Joni Mitchell but it is interesting to watch the lyrics of Big Yellow Taxi come to life in one's back yard. Two stories from Maine that illustrate the chutzpah of those who move here seeking a rural paradise while having no intention to share our rural purgatory:

First, from my neck of the woods, an editorial (in its entirety) by a local lobsterman who was "successfully" sued by his neighbors demanding he remove his fishing gear from his property:

"Hello this is Jed Miller and I am responding to the decision in my case. I am frustrated by the fact that the Judge doesn't fully grasp the foolishness of this situation.

He doesn't realize that the piece of my property is smaller than my house foundation. He doesn't realize that my neighbors can't see my traps from their house (they live one-quarter a mile down the road.) He doesn't realize that one neighbor involved in the lawsuit keeps his 40-something-foot sailboat in his yard. Also the judge decided that this was irreparable damage to the community and neighborhood, lowering the property values of my neighbors. My response to this is, what community does the judge think we live in? This isn't Newport Beach California or even Newport Rhode Island. This is Midcoast Maine! This is a lobstering/fishing community.

The fishing part of this community is what brought these people here. The same people suing me for having lobster traps in my yard are the same people who came here from out of state and "just loved this cute little fishing village." The same people that would go down to the harbors and ogle at the "adorable" little lobster boats and lobstermen. The same people who come up to my boat trying to buy lobsters from me for a cheaper price. The same people who supposedly respect the lobstermen's blunt independence. These same people are trying to stop us from starting our boats before 7 a.m. Well, what these people have to remember is, if they want their precious lobster dinner, then they have let us do our jobs! Remember the reason you moved here was because you liked the way it was! We don't need you to save us from ourselves, run our lives, or to change everything to how it was where you came from. That is why you left there remember?

There is a law against wet storage of lobster traps. That means in the winter when you spend more money than you make lobstering, it makes more sense to bring them in and store them than to fish them and lose money. One of my neighbors involved told me that he doesn't want to look at the traps when he drives by them because they are an "eyesore" to him, and "they remind me of New Jersey." Well sir, I guess that means you shouldn't have moved to St.George where there are lobster traps in almost every other yard on the way to your house.

With all that is going on in the world today, you would think that people would have more important things to think about. When our founding fathers drafted the Bill Of Rights, I don't think they were trying to protect property values.

Jed Miller, Spruce Head"

Second, a story from Maine's over-development sacrificial lamb, York County:

"Southern Maine timberlands give way to housing development .....Although it has attracted little notice, the pace of land conversion has doubled over the previous decade, bringing changes to an area defined by forests that supply local lumberyards and provide recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.

'It's the forest we live in every day, but it's kind of invisible,' said Lloyd Irland, a Winthrop-based forestry consultant. 'We`re losing a lot of what makes Maine the way it is.'..."


mike said...

While I agree that the Jed Miller story can come across like that, it's also worth pointing out that the property was purchased by the Miller's in 2002 as part of this subdivision and they were aware of these covenants (albeit perhaps told that their activities would not be a problem). This was not some outside force that came in and encroached upon them - this was established at the time of their purchase 5 years ago.

What is happening is that the other owners of this particular subdivision are suing to enforce known covenants that Mr. Miller chose not to follow. He is now being limited back to activities that do not cross into the "commercial sector" (limited traps, can keep dual-use trailers, etc.).

I say this all fully against the sprawl (want to get in line for the new Lowe's 5 miles from the Home Depot?) but covenants like this are just "virtual fences" trying to make good neighbors. And living in a state where salaries certainly not pull up to property values perhaps this subdivision provided the most affordable option. I know we're careful to investigate specifics of properties like this before purchasing. I do find it somewhat ironic that this [emotional] rant against the "development of Maine" comes from a home purchased in a new subdivision.

It's a touchy subject for these parts for sure that gets people up in arms, but it seems to be a fair and reasoned decision.

weasel said...

lobstermen as default Maine royalty just because they trap a state icon.

I don't think the judge had much choice in the matter as you point out, but it certainly is an odd covenant to put on a subdivision in coastal Maine unless you are seeking to exclude certain classes of folks (it certainly isn't economic discrimination- most bug pickers I know do alright for themselves).

I suppose I have a degree of sympathy for Miller based less on the specifics of his case and more on my unease that Maine is becoming seen ever more as a retirement/second home fantasy and less and less as a viable place for working families not employed in the public sector (and that's not intended as a slam on you all, btw!). The project I was working on this winter up at UMaine Hutchinson was very illuminating about this and other conundrums. When you live in the most elderly county in the most aged state in the Union what does the future hold?

Rikki said...

Mickey -

I was hoping there was more to this story than the letter indicated. I've kinda lost the love for the Courier as we've prepared for our exodus out of the promised land, as it were. But I'll have to check back in to gauge the post-letter publication sentiment.

Where/how did you hear about the restrictive covenants attaching to his property by way of the subdivision? Conveniently, he left that part out of his plea to the people.

Perhaps this is more akin to something the weasel discussed with me some time back about the sense of entitlement possessed by some of the folks with a few generations of localishness under their familial belts.

Do they deserve some degree of this sense of entitlement to privileged offerings in the Midcoast? Perhaps. Do they deserve to flaunt the law in the face of those from away (read: Lincoln County and points south)? No.

I was pretty sympathetic when I first read this story. This read of the typical coming to the nuisance scenario, and I was inclined to buy his neighbors a few steaming cups of shut the faahk up.

However, if they bought a property with full notice of the restrictive covenants ... which essentially means, they bought a property ... and they're bummed because a neighbor is enforcing her rights, then the sympathy fades quickly.

If you're mad that the only affordable property in your hometown, not named Newport Beach California or wherever, is a subdivision whose parcels are bound by restrictive covenants, then I suspect you're barking up the wrong tree.

Especially when the hometown in question is Spruce Head. You want to direct you ire at somebody ... how 'bout you call up Uncle Wincheneugley and yell at him instead. He's the one who subdivided his property in the first place.

Or something.

weasel said...

Yeah; it's all a bit "Bury My Heart at Wassohoc Knee": its not as if its whites versus Native Americans, in that even the oldest families around here can only creditably claim 300 years of tenure (and most way less than that).

The convenant information was in some of the earlier reporting. I'm just bummed that people feel the need or desire for convenants restricting normal Maine pursuits (I could see convenanting against a junk yard, but lobstering?). My predjudices make me speculate that Miller's neighbors oppose visible signs of lobstering in their 'hood but probably think nothing of using pesticides on their lawn. But of course, it is infinitely more complex than "local" versus "away".

I heard Nick Spitzer (NPR musical folklorist) speak in Waterville a while back and he had a great set of terms he was proposing for Mainer's caste deliniations:

"Native"- with apologies to the Passamaquoddy, this would mean someone born here. Only people who can self-describe as Mainers. Even the assholes.

"Local"- a transplant with a few years under their belt and who has adopted the ethos of the Pine Tree State. Cannot call self Mainer, but stays year 'round (unless over 65).

"From Away"- someone who might own real estate here but views the state as their own private movie set, to be manipulated to fit their twisted vision of 'The Way Life Should Be' without consideration of the impact on others, either because of malice, negligence or ignorance. Can call themselves "Flatlanders".