Fish House Debate Goes to Hampton Voters

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Voters Will Have Final Say

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, October 26, 2007

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- Selectmen will temporarily allow the new fish house constructed illegally at Ruth Stimson Park to remain until voters decide its fate.

The board unanimously voted Monday night to hold off on enforcing removal of the new fish house as well as the town owned Mace Fish House. Both have no legal right to be there according to a Town Meeting vote and State Supreme Court ruling.

Selectman Jim Workman made the motion to allow the fish houses to remain to give voters opportunity to decide in March. In doing so, he cited a 1988 Town Meeting vote in which residents overwhelming approved spending $2,000 to restore the fish houses as part of the town's 350th anniversary.

"(The vote) was a strong recent signal from the voters that they feel these two buildings are of historical value and did not want them removed," Workman said.

Controversy began two months ago when several residents protested the fact Dave Cropper, who purchased the historic Doggett Fish House, tore it down and built a replica without proper permits from the building department.

Complicating matters is the fact Cropper, who owns Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Shop, is not a commercial fisherman and doesn't have the right to own the property.

Several residents reminded town officials of a state Supreme Court ruling, especially when the town took over ownership of the Mace Fish House. The 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.

Selectmen are currently considering putting forth three warrant articles to see what voters want to do about the fish houses. The first would ask voters to allow the town-owned Mace Fish house to remain even though the town is not in the commercial fishing industry.

The two other warrant articles deal with Cropper's replica fish house. One asks voters to purchase it from Cropper and allow it to stay while the second asks if voters want to allow Cropper to continue owning it.

Selectmen Chairman Ben Moore said he's against putting forth the third warrant article.

"If we can't own it because the voters don't want to appropriate the money, I think we ought to instruct Mr. Cropper to move it, " Moore said.

If all three articles fail, both fish houses would be removed from the park. The Heritage Commission recommended the buildings remain because they represent an important part of Hampton's history. The fish houses were once a symbol of the town's thriving fishing industry.

[Jason Schreiber photo]
{Photo not in original article}
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