Town Must Buy it or Force its Removal
By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, November 23, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- Selectmen are giving voters only one option to keep the fish house illegally constructed at Ruth Stimson Park.
The board voted this week to put forward a warrant article that would allow the replica of the Doggett Fish House to remain, but only if the town purchases it.
"The town will either purchase it or it will be forced to be removed," Selectmen Chairman Ben Moore said.
The fish house, owned by local surf shop owner Dave Cropper, currently has no legal right to be on town property because it's not owned by a commercial fisherman.
A 1959 state Supreme Court ruling states that fish houses could only remain on town property if owned by someone who makes a living as commercial fisherman. The court case basically backed up a 1950 Town Meeting vote.
Selectmen said the warrant article that will go on the March ballot will ask voters to purchase the fish house from Cropper for $22,700.
It will also ask the town's permission to allow the fish house to remain intact even though the town is not in the commercial fishing industry.
Selectmen opted against putting forth an alternative warrant article that would have also allowed the fish house to stay in place but with Cropper as the owner. The board voted 3-2 against putting the latter article on the ballot even though Cropper agreed to not sell it and donate to the town after his death.
Selectman Ginny Bridle-Russell said she voted against putting forward the alternative article because she thought it would hurt the chances of the first one.
"Why would anyone vote to spend $22,700 when the next article says you don't have to spend the money and the fish house would remain and the town would get it for free eventually," Bridle-Russell said.
Selectmen Jim Workman and Bill Lally were the only board members in support of putting the alternative article forward to voters.
"This would have been another option for people who didn't wish to expend the money but wanted to retain the fish house," Workman said. "This was an alternative that would have at least saved the house."
Cropper, who was at the meeting, said he was disappointed in the board's decision to only put forward the one warrant article.
"I hope the article (you approved) will get passed because I do believe it should be owned by the town," Cropper said. "But by not allowing the other article you are setting me up to lose a substantial amount of money."
Cropper said he agreed to sell the rebuilt fish house but that figure does not include the money he spent in purchasing it.
"What happens when the town says no," Cropper said. "And it has to be removed."
Workman said Cropper still has the option to put forth the warrant article as a petition. All he needs is the signatures of 25 registered voters.
Cropper purchased the fish house in 2003 from Barbara Doggett because he wanted to restore the fish house to preserve its history. The fish house controversy began when Cropper tore down the Doggett fish house and built a new one earlier this year.
At the time, several residents pointed out he only received permits to restore the historic structure and also brought up the Supreme Court decision that had long been forgotten.