1.) Are there regulations that cover the use, improvement and/or
development of waterfront property?
Answer: Yes. In recognition of the importance of the
shorelands of Maine's lakes, rivers, wetlands and the ocean to the state's
environment and economy, a Shoreland Zoning Act was first enacted in 1971. Since
then, these controls have been revised and expanded. This act established
minimum zoning standards for all towns and municipalities to adopt, and gave the
state an oversight role. IMPORTANT: Local governments had to meet these
requirements, but they could be more stringent than the state's guidelines, so
with any specific property/project, it is important to contact the local
government. Towns have the role of issuing permits, appointing a Code
Enforcement Officer to enforce the ordinances, and collect fees and record all
2.) What are considered shoreland areas?
The municipalities must map these areas and establish districts or zones within
these areas for protected districts and residential, commercial or mixed-use
- All land within 250 feet of the highwater line of any pond over 10 acres,
any river that drains at least 25 square miles, and all tidal waters and
- All land within 250 feet of a freshwater wetland over 10 acres.
- All land within 75 feet of streams that are an outlet of great ponds or
streams below the confluence of 2 perennial streams.
3.) How is the distance from a water body measured?
Answer: It is measured horizontally from the normal high
water line, or in the case of a wetland, the "upland edge". It is NOT the uphill
4.) What about buildings, lots and uses that do not meet current
Answer: These are "non-conforming" and usually pre-date
the ordinance. A common situation is where a building is sited too close to the
water. These non-conforming uses may be repaired, renovated and maintained
without a permit, provided no expansion occurs.
5.) Does that mean no expansion is possible?
Answer: No. The law does not permit any expansion
towards the water if the structure is already less than the required setback.
However, a non-conforming structure that existed on January 1, l989 may be
expanded less than 30% (based on the floor area and volume of the structure),
but only to the part of the building that is within the required setback - and,
of course, with a permit. Local municipalities may adopt some other alternatives
to the 30% rule. See the local ordinance.
6.) What else can be done with a non-conforming structure?
Answer: It may be possible to build a new or enlarged
basement under the structure. It may be possible to relocate the structure. If a
building is damaged or destroyed and loses more than 50 % of its value, it may
be possible to rebuild it. See the local ordinance.
7.) What is the minimum lot size allowed?
Answer: Shore frontage (the width of the lot at the
waterfront) and overall lot sizes standards vary, depending on the type of use
and type of water body. Generally, the following minimum standards apply:
|Residential Lot Size:
||30,000 square feet
||40,000 square feet
|Residential Lot Frontage:
||150 ft. shore frontage
||200 ft. shore frontage
|Commercial Lot Size:
||40,000 square feet
||60,000 square feet
||200 ft. shore frontage
||300 ft. shore frontage
The minimum lot width within 100 feet of the shoreline can be no less than the
shore frontage standard.
Note: Land below normal high-water and roads cannot be included in the lot area.
The frontage and lot size requirement applies to each
principal structure or dwelling unit.
8.) What about a lot that doesn't meet these minimum standards?
Answer: A non-conforming lot that predates the local
ordinance may be built upon either with or without a variance, depending on the
situation, See the local Code Enforcement Officer.
9.) What are the minimum setback requirements?
Answer: The setback for structures on great ponds or
rivers flowing into great ponds is 100 feet. A 75 foot setback applies to all
other water bodies, streams and wetlands.
10.) Are there height restrictions?
Answer: Yes. The maximum height of a new or expanded
structure is 35 feet, measured from the downhill side of the building to the
roof peak. Additionally, the first floor must be at least one foot above the 100
year flood elevation. See the local town office,
11.) Are there lot coverage requirements?
Answer: Yes. Because solid surfaces increase runoff, the
total area of a lot coverage by structures, driveways, parking areas, decks,
patios, and other non-vegetated surfaces is limited to 20% in shoreland areas.
12.) What about roads, driveways and parking areas?
Answer: The setbacks are generally the same as for
structures, But there are specific requirements as to banks, grades and drainage
that should be investigated. See the local Code Enforcement Officer.
13.) Are there erosion control requirements?
Answer: Yes. Before any development is undertakes, it is
essential that state and local standards be investigated. In the case of earth
disturbance within 100 feet of a water resource, a permit may be required for
excavating, filling, grading, placing riprap, maintaining or replacing
structures including docks and retaining walls. Stormwater vegetated buffers,
while not always required, are strongly encouraged to help prevent erosion and
polluted runoff into water bodies.
14.) Any advice on septic systems?
Answer: Yes. Septic systems can work effectively for 25
years or more if properly maintained. But its often a case of out of sight, out
of mind. A system can be failing or polluting nearby surface water without there
being visible signs. So before purchasing property with a septic system, ask for
documentation on design, location and maintenance, look for signs of failure and
have the system professionally inspected.
If a new septic system is contemplated, it must be designed by a Maine licensed
site evaluator and installed according to the standards in the Plumbing Code, as
administered by the local Plumbing Inspector, with a permit, of course.
15.) What about cutting trees and clearing vegetation?
Answer: On great ponds and rivers flowing into them,
there is a 100 foot buffer zone:
On all other water bodies the buffer zone is 75 feet and clearing is limited to
40% of volume in a 10 year period and no cleared openings. Also within these
- No more than 40% of the total volume of trees over 4 inches in diameter may
be harvested in any 10 year period.
- Vegetation less than 3 feet in height, including ground cover, cannot be
- Pruning the lower 1/3 of tree branches within the buffer is permitted.
Clearing beyond the buffer zones and timber harvesting is also regulated. See
the local ordinances.
- No opening within the forest canopy can exceed 250 square feet.
- A winding footpath is allowed, its width depending on the body of water.
- Selective cutting is allowed according to an established rating system.
16.) What if I buy a "seasonal" camp in the shoreland zone. Can I
convert it to a permanent, year-round home?
Answer: Yes. But you may be required to obtain a
seasonal conversion permit from the local Plumbing Inspector to ensure adequate
subsurface wastewater disposal systems are in place to handle increased usage.
17.) Can I establish a campsite on a shoreland parcel?
Answer: Private campsites are subject to the following
18.) What about drinking water?
- only one site per 30,000 square feet of lot is permitted;
- tents, recreational vehicles, cars, trailers, etc., must be set back 100
feet from a Great Pond, or river flowing to a Great Pond, and 75 feet from other
- no permanent foundation, except for a gravel pad, is allowed;
- clearing in the Resource Protection District is limited to 1000 square feet;
- approval of the method of sewage disposal is required from the Local
Plumbing Inspector; and
- if the camper, tent, vehicle, or shelter is on-site for more than 120 days
of the year, residential structure and sewage standards must be met.
Answer: While it is permissible to pull water from a
lake or river, the problems are potability and freezing of waterlines, so this
is typically a seasonal source for uses other than drinking. Drilled wells
(often called artesian here) are the best permanent source, with the probability
of finding water in Maine being excellent. For an already developed property
with a water source, water quality, quantity and the performance of the systems
should be tested by a lab and/or a well contractor.
19.) Will I be required to use a local attorney when purchasing property
Answer: In Maine, as in all of New England, real estate
transactions are traditionally handled by attorneys. They do the title searches,
arrange for title insurance, prepare all the necessary documents, preside over
the closing and disburse the funds. Usually there is a seller's attorney and a
buyer's attorney for each transaction. So, although it is not essential, the use
of a local attorney is highly recommended. Additionally, if you are financing a
purchase, the lending institution may require that the attoney be on their
20.) Other than the usual closing costs on real estate purchases, are
there any other costs specific to Maine?
Answer: Yes. Maine charges a transfer tax on all real
estate sales or transfers. This tax is split between the buyer and seller unless
otherwise specified or agreed to by both parties. The amount of the tax is $2.20
per thousand dollars of the sales price.
Also, for sellers not a resident of Maine, there is a withholding tax of 2 1/2%
of the sales price for properties selling for more than $50,000, pending
submission of your tax return.
21.) How are property taxes determined in Maine?
Answer: Each town makes an annual budget. The
residents/voters/taxpayers vote to either approve or adjust the budget at the
annual town meetings. This total budget amount is divided by the total
valuations of all the properties in the town, as determined by the local
assessor, to arrive at a "mil" rate (tax rate). This rate is applied to the
assessed value of each property to arrive at its tax due for the year. The state
mandates that assessed value of each property must be within 70 to 110% of
market value. The property tax amount for the previous year is usually given on
a property's listing form.
Further Information: Please note that these questions and
answers are only intended as an overview, particularly with regard to zoning
issues. If you would like more comprehensive information, we would suggest you
order the handbook "Maine Shoreland Zoning - A Handbook For Shoreland Owners"
from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection at
www.state.me.us/dep. Go to Publications, page 3, Shoreland Zoning.