Waterfront FAQs

Waterfront FAQs2023-12-04T17:30:30+00:00

Maine Waterfront FAQs
Common property owner questions

Are there regulations that cover the use, improvement and development of waterfront property?2023-09-02T15:01:30+00:00

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. Local governments have 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 transactions.

What are considered shoreland zones?2023-09-02T15:02:22+00:00
  • 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 saltwater marshes.
  • 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.
How is the distance from a water body measured?2023-09-02T15:04:01+00:00

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 distance.

What about buildings, lots and uses that do not meet current standards?2023-09-02T15:06:48+00:00

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.

Does that mean no expansion is possible?2023-09-02T15:08:40+00:00

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, 1989 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.

What else can be done with a non-conforming structure?2023-09-02T15:11:12+00:00

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.

What is the minimum lot size allowed?2023-09-02T15:15:33+00:00

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

Residential Lot Frontage

Commercial Lot Size

Commercial Lot Frontage



30,000 sqft

150 ft shore frontage

40,000 sqft

200 ft shore frontage



40,000 sqft

200 ft shore frontage

60,000 sqft

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.

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.

What are the minimum setback requirements?2023-09-02T15:31:56+00:00

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.

Are there height restrictions?2023-09-02T15:33:44+00:00

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. When in doubt, see the local town office

Are there lot coverage requirements?2023-09-02T15:35:15+00:00

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.

What about roads, driveways and parking areas?2023-09-02T15:36:59+00:00

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.

Are there erosion control requirements?2023-09-02T15:38:28+00:00

Yes. Before any development is undertaken, 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.

What about drinking water?2023-09-02T15:52:54+00:00

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.

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