Residents of active coastal fishing communities want newcomers—or potential newcomers—to get real.
Yes, coastal communities are picturesque, with sweet houses clustered on rocky shores. And yes, the ocean is stunning and the salt air is invigorating and the pace of life is calmer than in the cities.
But coastal communities are not Fantasy Island. They are real places where real people work hard. There’s noise (lobster boats firing up at 3 a.m.). And smells (decaying detritus on lobster traps). And the parking is atrocious.
For the uninitiated (read: People from Away, or PFAs in coastal community shorthand—and that could mean folks from inland Maine or out-of-staters), the reality of life in a coastal community with an active waterfront can be a far cry from what they expected, and that can cause friction between newcomers who don’t adapt and long-time residents who resent newcomers who demonstrate a lack of respect for and understanding of their fishing heritage.
That’s why some coastal communities like Harpswell, Jonesport, Deer Isle and Stonington are being proactive about managing the expectations of new residents.
In 2005, when Harpswell adopted its comprehensive plan, town committee members worked to win grants to produce an educational brochure for new residents and potential new residents, said Deirdre Strachan, who moved to Harpswell from Massachusetts in 1998 and serves on the town’s conservation committee.
The color brochure is available at the town office and is distributed by many real estate agents. It elucidates what life in Harpswell is like—the fishing gear stored in yards; trucks loaded with lobster rumbling through town at all hours; commercial and recreational boat noise; the odor of barrels of bait; haphazard parking arrangements; the need for measures such as restricting the use of certain pesticides in order to protect the environment which is the backbone of Harpswell’s economy.
The brochure has been circulating for 10 years in Harpswell, but the town has not done an evaluation of its effectiveness, said Strachan.
“My understanding is people who live near working waterfront are not necessarily complaining about noise or smell, as the result, I’m assuming, of reading the brochure. It at least has opened up the issue for people to talk about and be aware of,” she said.
The brochure is helpful, said Roxanne York, owner of Roxanne York Real Estate, based in Harpswell’s Bailey Island.
“It’s a nice way to say ‘You’re welcome, but we’re here too, and we want to remain here,'” York said.
She uses the brochure as a tool to help manage the expectations of clients. For instance, if clients want to live in a peaceful area, but the house they like is near the fishing pier, she makes sure they understand that they won’t get quiet.
“I’m not trying to sell a house; I want them to understand the community in which they’re looking.” If prospective new residents understand where they will be living before they buy, she said, there is no reason for disappointment or misunderstandings.
The towns of Deer Isle and Stonington, like Harpswell, produced a brochure in 2001-02 as a result of those communities’ comprehensive planning efforts, said Kathleen Billings-Pezaris, Stonington’s town manager since 2007 and a lifelong resident of the area.
Because of budget cuts and a cool down in the real estate market around 2005, the towns have not published the brochures in recent years, but Billings-Pezaris said they were a nice tool to have and would publish them again if given budgetary resources to do so.
“Nobody here wants to make anyone’s life miserable,” she said. “We’re just trying to live and work. It’s our cultural heritage here. It’s the way we make our living. It’s our right to do that.”
And the brochures help explain that, she said. “I think it does bring the perspective that people who live and work here—this is what we deal with every day.”