Franklin Countys First News

Rangeley business to close after dispute with town

The Floating Camp Nomad.

RANGELEY - After three years of renting two floating camps on Rangeley Lake, a local woman is being told by town officials to close her business immediately, following a stop-work order from Town Attorney Kristen Collins.

Rheanna Sinnett, owner of Just Add Water Floating Camps, was heading into her third year of renting the small aquatic homes out to tourists and locals alike. The rentals were listed on Airbnb, as well as on a private website operated by Sinnett. Promoted as isolation at its best- Sinnett offered several options for an overnight: tied to the dock owned by her family, moored just off the dock, or anchored in a private cove. Sinnett did not allow customers to operate the boats. Though customers would usually come and stay put in the cabins, they almost always patronized local businesses on their way in or out of town according to Sinnett. The business was operating at 84 percent capacity- much higher than the average hotel, she said.

"I was starting to flourish. I had built a very successful business here," Sinnett said.

However, the Rangeley community wasn't pleased with the success, Sinnett said, and last week that displeasure brought Sinnett's business to a screeching halt with the serving of a stop-work order.

According to interim Town Manager Traci Lavoie, Sinnett refused to apply for a Conditional Use Permit that former Code Enforcement Officer Tom Lillis was requiring as of June 1. Lavoie said that due to an overload of work, the CEO had not addressed the house boats sooner. Sinnett had already been in operation for two and a half years, in compliance with all town regulations accordingly, before any town officials took notice.

"She did come in to speak to the planning board, but she didn't have a CUP. They requested she leave and come back with a CUP," Lavoie said.

Applying for a CUP is a lengthy process, and costs money; Sinnett said she wanted to discuss what she viewed as false claims before going through the process.

In March, Town Attorney Kristen Collins had deemed Sinnett's floating camps as a "Commercial Facility Requiring Shoreland Location", rather than a residential business, as the other 118 lakeside Airbnbs are classified. The request for the CUP was not mentioned in the attorney's ruling, but came several months after. Lavoie said the list was lengthy as to why Sinnett's camps were considered commercial rather than residential, but included that the structures were "non-conforming" and they were not being used as a dwelling. Sinnett reported that she did live on one of her boats while she was in between homes last summer, and that many rentals are considered "non-conforming" such as yurts, treehouses and canvas tents.

As a result of the attorney's ruling, and the following CUP request, Sinnett decided to operate her houseboats using the Oquossoc public dock as the pick up/drop off location for guests. She received the stop-order several weeks later. The town was also requiring Sinnett to submit a CUP to use the public dock, but according to documents submitted by Sinnett, that requirement doesn't stand for any other business in Rangeley. When Sinnett requested to see those permits for other businesses, a town official noted "no permitting is required to use public docks." Sinnett reported that twice the Board of Selectmen met and discussed Just Add Water Floating Camps without publishing the item on the agenda.

"The requirement for a CUP is simply the most recent of many attempts from this group of people in Rangeley who do not want my houseboats to exist in any way. Nor do I believe it will be the last," Sinnett wrote in an email to Lavoie, current CEO Bailey Beers, and others.

According to Sinnett, she and her father Kevin Sinnett made several requests for a meeting and discussion regarding the commercial vs. residential ruling of her business. Due to the changing over of officials, both the CEO and the Town Manager left their positions, the requests for meetings were disregarded. Sinnett said she wasn't sure what to do, so she continued to prepare for the summer season. She had a fully booked summer for both boats, and was working to meet all of the requirements set by the COVID-19 pandemic. The next communication she received from the town was the stop-work order which she received in early June.

The Floating Boats were not only successful in Sinnett's eyes, but had gained attention from Down East Magazine, the Maine Small Business Association and the Maine Office of Tourism for the boats' eco-friendly offerings. Sinnett said she was preparing to work with the Office of Tourism to showcase her boats in promotional videos to attract people inland.

Sinnett said she will not apply for the CUP, as she believes the false accusations and requirements will not end.

"The harassment that my family and I have experienced over the past year is unacceptable in a community that we have lived in, supported, and tried to build up for over 37 years. Rangeley has been ruined for me. I no longer wish to live here, encourage others to visit here, or support and foster economic and community development here," Sinnett wrote.

Code Enforcement Officer Bailey Beers declined to comment. Selectboard members Stephen Philbrick, David Burgess, Ethan Shaffer, Cynthia Egan and Donald Nuttall did not respond to requests for comment.

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34 Responses »

  1. Are the boats for sale? If so how much?

  2. This is so sad. We stayed at the Floating Camps twice, and Rheanna was always respectful of the lake, and of landowners’ rights. Seems like the Town officials really dropped the ball, then tried to blame Rheanna and her business. So much for young people trying to do the right thing environmentally.

  3. You need to request to speak to the appeals board! if one isnt appointed....... you could always sue the town officials.

  4. Hi, neighbor. “harassment that my family and I have experienced over the past year is unacceptable” hmmm... When I parked my Airstream in front of my house and used its dining table as a desk while I worked from home, someone in the neighborhood complained. Code enforcement visited and informed me that I wasn’t allowed to use a recreational vehicle in my yard. This was the same summer you moved your houseboat in. ( I think it’s lovely, btw.) However, I wondered at the time why I couldn’t use my recreational ‘camper’ and you could use yours. I assumed that money talks and your family brings a lot to the area. As you know, change is hard for folks in that neck of the woods. There’s a lot of pressure (and rules) to keep things the way they are. You may want to count your blessings that you could rake in the bucks while you did. ...and buy the permit.

  5. While I understand the concerns of cost and time filling out a CUP, it may be a good idea to go through the process. Since the business was so successful, and highlighted in national publications, it is very likely that large corporations will capitalize on the idea. They have resources to overcome objections and fight legal challenges.

    Rangeley should either embrace this idea, or pass laws that make it illegal. Perhaps relocating to Rangeley Plantation is in order?

  6. Perhaps she would be interested in moving to another lake around here. Such as Clearwater, Wilson or any other lake that would be more inviting than Rangeley.

  7. I think its funny. No one anticipated anything like this happening. Big money caught with their pants down. Now they are throwing dough against the wall hoping it will stick. I can see them controlling future expansion but if I was her I would fight for what I made.

  8. One must have the right last name or plenty of drugs to make it in Rangeley....

  9. Really Travis? take advantage of the woman's misfortune? People from AWAY have and always will rule the Rangeley area unfortunately. Just more of the bureaucratic BS we've come to expect from Rangeley aka Portland north. Very sorry Reanna Sinnett for the loss of your livelihood, I hope things work out well for you somewhere else.

  10. Shame on you, Rangeley. A non-native comes up with a unique business venture and is successful and Rangeley town fathers are jealous and resentful. It always matters in Rangeley the last name of those who want to "float their boat." Good luck Ms. Sinnett!

  11. That's unfortunate. It sounds like a great business.

  12. I stopped doing business in Rangeley a couple of years ago for similar reasons. People call and almost beg us to go there for service calls, but I tell them I don't work in Rangeley. When they ask why, I try to nicely say that I've had a lot of unpleasant experiences with the people there.

  13. Just shows ya the brilliance of town Managers and the town will not have these patrons coming and spending $....Bright thinking.

  14. Typical Rangeley mentality. The business doesn't "conform" to the flat landers that own more of the town than they should.

  15. Taxpayer, Travis is a Selectman of N.S., on his way up the political ladder, and it shows, Sad world it's become.

  16. This is a pretty slanted article in favor of the business owner. That family has ignored or skirted around building codes and other requirements for years. They have gotten away with building structures that never would have happened if they had followed correct procedures. They live by the " it's easier to ask for forgiveness then permission" mantra. Where does the sewage go from the house boats? It gets dumped in the house septic right? Is their septic designed to accommodate that? I know that it's not. They are also terrible neighbors, trying to buy ROW's and land lock some of their neighbors. Lot;s more to this story. Oh, and they don't spend a dime in Oquossoc.

  17. Cannot come to Wilson they have
    Ordnance again this. Do you want copy?

  18. No Sandra that’s fine. Thanks for eliminating Wilson as a place to build a business for someone.

  19. You barely mentioned the main reason why these boats are not wanted- SEWAGE into the lake. There is NO pump out facility in Rangeley, like on the coast with live on boats.... the one septic field that is being used for a week of guests, is stated for a one bedroom, small camp. The lake is getting growth from these incompetent septic fields, and this one is a major offender. There is no statuette regarding house boats for any designated lakes in the State of Maine.

  20. Classic example of things are not a problem until they become a problem. The Sinnett family have played the poor me card. Tried to drag a non profit into the controversy, flat out ignored a stop work order and now have started a Media smear campaign. Years ago there was one antique boats allowing visitors for sight seeing. Now it’s a fulll blown commercial enterprise and the argument of the town allowing it is more like the town finally had to step in because it was pushing well past the limits of a home occupied business. Town officials can’t comment on an ongoing issue especially when a big fancy Portland lawyer has been hired.

  21. The entire story should be told and the article has missed some important issues. The comments are what they are but also without much forward thinking. Tax payers on shore front property support a great deal of the base for Rangeley. Should we allow a multitude of houseboats to populate the lake with out them paying their fair share of the property tax burden. The Sinnett family needed to apply for permits through the structured channels and the town needs to explore the impact of many, many live aboard houseboats that may descend on one of the States most beautiful resources. Every person who lives and pays taxes on the lake must follow strict zoning ordinances and comply with state sewer laws to ensure the lake survives . It is unfortunate that the Sinnett family felt that they did not need to follow the proper channels and were asked to stop . There are families who lived on either side of the Sinnett’s property in a residential zone. These families were made to endure several commercial business’s and a fleet of boats in a residentially zoned area. The tears should be wiped away and proper procedure should be the topic of conversation.

  22. Just come south where your business will be appreciated. Lovely here and a longer summer. 2 seasons in Rangley winter and 4th of july...

  23. Yes! As the last message stated “just come south”...Disneyland is due South. Jet skis and houseboats fit right in with Disney Land. So sorry to see such a wild lake become so commercialized.....

  24. Let me guess... hmmmmm
    A business has operated without issue for two years. Suddenly, there are complaints from jealous, failures and the "Town Fathers" decide to take action against this business because someone with connections cried a little loud.
    Too much regulation from the local level to federal.
    We have been fed the bull for many years from politicians that "Small Businesses are the Backbone of the country". Yet, when it come down to it, as long as those in power can pad their pockets, they could care less if every building that housed a small business was rendered condemned. Right now, during all of the COVID-19, the true small businesses are suffering beyond belief because they are being selectively ran out of business from shut downs and overbearing regulation while large, dividend paying businesses are allowed to flourish.
    Simply put, this is wrong.

  25. It's one thing to know and state true facts and another to keep the lies and slander going of the few locals that are a jealous lot.
    All their developments on their property, including the house boats, enlarging his tour company were all brought in fron of the town , approved, and inspections, final,occupancy permits approved and issued by Fire, Septic ( the plumbing inspector), ,electrical and finally the CEO officials!
    It was all done to code by legal licensed builders!! You cannot dispute that!
    This is a true blatant attack on a family that promoted and brought much business and money intomRangeley Region! Next I guess the business'svthat wouldn't stand with them will be squakingbhow business is bad!!
    Smart move Rangeley!!NOT!!
    There has been books written just about this same issue, If you clearly come from away, bring money into town become successful they want you gone!
    It is sad, when you have as someone stated money rich flatlanders leadingvthe boards byvtgeir noses after theympull their heads out of you know where,myopic destroy a vibrant business!
    People keep bringing up septic system!??
    Please tell me where all the people in hoats on the lake go to the bathroom!??

  26. Bottom line on this Live Aboard Houseboat issue ! If you are truly interested in this matter get the transcripts from the meetings and the truth will be apparent to you !
    I thank the Rangeley Town Officials and Board Members for their through investigation into this matter ! The laws were written to protect and no one is above law ! There is nothing more to say !

  27. @Aww - You mentioned moving that business to other lakes in the area, implying that it's all so simple. Rangeley Lake covers 9.6 square miles and has access to commercial businesses directly on the water. Wilson Lake is a third the size of Rangeley (3.3 sq miles), Clearwater Lake covers 1.2 sq mi, and Porter Lake is a mere .81 sq mi. To my knowledge none of these 3 much small lakes have the appropriate size, accommodations, or/and local services needed by such an enterprise. Being no "flatlander" and having spent 73 summers on Clearwater Lake, my response would be "Thanks, but no thanks!!"

  28. Marlene are you saying that no other lake around can fit two more boats ? It says in this story that they have two boats they rent out. I guess if she decides to go someplace else with her boats it would be up to the local planning board. Have a great day.

  29. Sorry-Not on Porter Lake!

  30. Its a shame select names want all business in town for their profit. More than one good business has been run out. Very narrow minded people here. I retired here and have seen this. I have opted not to spend my money in rangeley ever now. Thank god I don't try to ever make or spend my money downtown. I go to Eustis Stratton to eat. Being in the woods keeps narrow mentality .The house boat will survive on the coast with ease. Much better atmosphere. Good luck.

  31. Do people like yourself ever stop to think that maybe we don't want your outside money. Maybe we enjoy our simplistic life and prefer to keep it that way. Not everyone wants all of the riches and the hustle and bustle that money brings sometimes. Keep your money....some of us don't want it. Thanks!

  32. I really dont see much difference between these and all the pontoon boats that are everywhere except these could be regulated as to where they are placed and a pontoon boat could anchor right off your dock.

  33. @ Awww----What don't you get about the fact that those of us who live on small lakes in Franklin Country do NOT have the facilities necessary for those who want to 'camp' on the water?? Not sure about Wilson Lake or Porter Lake, but I strongly suspect that they are no better off than we are in that regard. There is NO place to buy gas or food on Clearwater Lake (or anywhere within 5 miles) so there is no argument that it will 'benefit the local economy'. While there IS a portable toilet provided by our lake association in the parking lot near the public beach, there is NO place that provides for septic pump-out. Yes, it surely WOULD be up to the local Planning Board and there would be many serious issues for them to address as well as hard questions from those who pay the taxes for the privilege of being here and don't want crap dumped into this pristine lake to fill the coffers of a stranger's business. It is called Clearwater for a reason!! Boats camping on the lake is a completely different issue than our usual traffic from camps or people coming in with boats, canoes, and kayaks to enjoy a DAY on the water. It is very live-and-let-live here; there is plenty of water and fun to go around. And, yes, I WILL be very upfront and say that I'm not all warm and fuzzy at the thought of a houseboat full of strangers 'camped' off my dock or anybody else's. The sheer size of Rangeley Lake (almost 9 times larger) provides an enormous area for people and 'boat campers' to spread out and makes the likelihood of such close quarter much more remote. Let them figure it out.

  34. I grew up in western Maine. I hadn't visited Rangeley in nearly 15 years until I finally came back last summer to stay on one of Rheanna's houseboats with my wife for our anniversary. It was amazing. And we stopped at several other businesses on our way to Rangeley and on our way home. We were looking forward to making another trip this summer. We'll happily visit Rheanna's boats wherever they end up, and businesses in that community will benefit from her presence. It will likely be quite some time before we have an occasion to make our way back up to Rangeley since her boats are gone.