Board Balks on Fish House Decision
By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, October 19, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Jason Schreiber photo]
Selectmen have yet to take a stand on whether the new fish house constructed illegally at North Beach should be allowed to stay.
The Hampton board balked at making a decision at Monday night's meeting to allow the building to remain temporarily to give voters a chance to decide its fate at the March Town Meeting. Chairman Ben Moore said the board wants to wait to get more information.
While selectmen would like the issue to be decided by Town Meeting, Moore said they want Town Attorney Mark Gearreald to provide a proper motion so they don't give the appearance they are "thumbing their noses at the law."
The new fish house at Ruth Stimson Park has no legal right to be there according to a Town Meeting vote and State Supreme Court ruling.
"The board needs to take an action," Town Manager Fred Welch said. "You need to give the owner permission to leave it there in order to get to Town Meeting."
The controversy over the fish house began two months ago when several residents came forward to protest the fact Dave Cropper, who purchased the historic Doggert Fish House, tore it down and built a replica without proper permits from the building department. He also did not receive a demolition permit from the town's Heritage Commission.
Complicating matters, residents say, is that Cropper, who owns Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Shop, is not a commercial fisherman and doesn't have the right to own the property. The state Supreme Court ruled in 1959 that privately owned fish houses on town-owned land in Hampton could only remain if owned and used by a commercial fisherman.
The ruling basically backed up Town Meeting vote on the issue in 1950. At the time, only two houses — one owned by Doggett and another owned by Harold Mace — were allowed to stay because they were still being used for fishing.
Cropper said he was unaware he needed the permits and the history surrounding the fish house. He has told selectmen he is willing to sell it to the town.
The Heritage Commission recommended the building remain because it represents an important part of Hampton's history. The fish houses were once a symbol of the town's thriving fishing industry. Moore said he has no problem allowing the fish house to remain, if it is town-owned and if that is what voters want.
"My personal view is if that is what the people want then the town should purchase it from Mr. Cropper and own it," Moore said. "If the warrant article doesn't pass then Mr. Cropper should promptly remove the fish house."
Resident Judy Curtis told selectmen Monday night she would like to see the issue go to Town Meeting. Initially, Curtis asked the board to force Cropper to remove the structure since he's not a commercial fisherman.
"In my opinion the new structure should be allowed to stay, however we should take up Mr. Cropper's offer to transfer ownership to the town," Curtis said.