Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Working Waterfront Revisited

At least three states are addressing the issue of how to protect working waterfront enterprises -- such as boatyards, fishing operations and marinas -- from higher valued land uses such as condominiums. Maine, Florida and New Jersey are in the forefront in tackling the issue.

New Jersey, for instance, is considering legislation that would establish the "right to fish." Patterned on the state's "right to farm" law, it would give fishing ports, commercial docks and fish processing plants a presumptive right to go about their business, noisy and/or smelly as it might be. The law, passed by the Assembly and pending in the State Senate as of June 2010, establishes that the daily operations of marine businesses are not a public nuisance.

Case in point: condominium development in Ottens Harbor, Wildwood, pushed out a fishing industry. The state now has six active fishing ports.

As with farms when residential development encroaches, county agricultural development boards would mediate disputes about the working waterfront.

The conflict is not new, although some are just discovering it. The Center's co-directors Ann Breen and Dick Rigby produced a monography in 1985 entitled: Caution: Working Waterfront, The Impact of Change on Marine Enterprises, with assistance from the Design Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts. Part One discussed four case studies where marine enterprises were threatened. Part Two looked at the other side of the issue, namely promoting public access to working waterfronts.

The displacement cases were:
  • The Miami River, where tramp freighter operations and boat yards were endangered by spreading commercial and residential development.
  • The central waterfront in Portland, Maine, where condominiums threatened to drive off the fishing fleet based here.
  • Marineship in Sausalito, Calif., a funky houseboat community that a nearby office development protested.
  • Henry Pier on Lake Union in Seattle, where a boat repair operation was in fact driven away by commercial pressures. Interesting here is that a state regulatory agency had to choose between the working waterfront and public access. It picked access.
In the report we cautioned waterfront businesses to clean up a bit as the public was increasingly interested in waterfronts. And that market forces were fully capable of consuming most boatyards, tug firm bases, fishing operations, gear shops and the like.

"In Waterfront Values, A Rising Tide" reported The New York Times on June 6, as if to confirm the threat. Talking about Ocean and Monmouth Counties in New Jersey, the paper reported that for all properties touching water, the average sale price in early 2010 was 35 percent above the previous year. Overall, general real estate in the counties was up just 6.7 percent.

"The numbers are powerful - overwhelming," a real estate analyst was quoted.

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