BELGRADE — A plump red chicken waddled its way under the frame of a 24-foot boat without a care in the world.
Eight chickens, seven rescued greyhounds, employees, property owner Shawn Grant and his family reside amongst the innumerable boats Brightside Marine’s 12-acre property a stone’s throw from downtown Belgrade Village.
The world is ready to move on from the coronavirus pandemic. Grant too is ready for change, but for a very different reason.
Embroiled in controversy over the use of his docks and property with the town for the last few years, the 59-year-old Grant is now focused on expanding his Brightside Marine boat rental and restoration business on Hulin Road.
“I can finally run my business,” Grant said last week from behind his desk at the Marina. “I can finally do what I know how to do, and that’s grow a small business.”
Making his way through the well-traveled gravel and grassy paths through a boat yard filled with projects new and old, Grant appears at peace. Wearing brown cargo shorts, flip-flops and a well-worn company shirt, a wide grin surfaces when talking about his work. A 1947 Chris Craft is loaded in a three-bay garage next to a 1964 Chris Craft which is one of the largest customer projects Grant has undertaken. The boat came in whole, but Grant and his crew disassembled it and are in the process of replacing 90% of the boat’s wood.
Opened in 2008 as a wooden boat repair business under its official Brightside Wooden Boat Services name, Brightside Marine expanded to repairing fiberglass boats, rents boats, runs boat tours, stores boats and repairs and sells electronic motors. The restoration portion of the business, which can take up 1,500 hours per boat, accounts for between 85% and 90% of revenue, with the rest mostly from rentals. Grant lives on site, and his property is on both sides of Hulin Road.
Grant filed a lawsuit in 2018 against the town regarding his property and docks at the marina. The town won the lawsuit, with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling Grant could no longer charge people to use the docks at his Great Pond Outlet Stream business. Grant also paid a $20,000 fine.
“I’m tens of thousands of dollars lighter of wallet, but I’m still right here,” Grant said. “I feel no animosity when I walk into Day’s Store.”
On any given day, there are upwards of a dozen project boats in the back of the marina where he works between 70-80 hours a week. Grant and co. refurbish these boats to rent or sell, but their main gig is restoring customer boats. The business leases a property in Rome for inside storage. The business rents 10 boats in addition to restoration, which accounts for an estimated 85-90% of revenue. The winter months are spent mostly on restoration of customer’s boats and ones the business owns, Grant’s “projects.”
His property extends behind the houses on Hulin Road. Grant rents the house and garage next door to his for extra storage, and new this summer, two Brightside Marine employees live there. To walk through Grant’s property is to see a rare type of shop for the state of Maine. Some of the boats look ready to launch, while others near the back of his property need more work. Some of those have been there for years with an unclear completion timeline.
“Projects salvageable by our standards,” Grant said.
IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
As part of the settlement agreement with the town in July 2020 after a lawsuit involving Grant’s docks, Brightside Marine was granted a commercial permit. During a sometimes testy public hearing prior to a vote on the commercial permit application in March, neighbors spoke strongly both in support and against Grant. The change from home occupation to commercial is the first of two permitting adjustments, with Grant in the process of acquiring a shoreland business zoning permit.
Belgrade Town Manager Anthony Wilson said Grant is in compliance with the town office and working with the code enforcement staff on the business permitting.
“We have no concerns,” Wilson said, “and if concerns are raised we will look into them.”
Grant said he “gets along great” with most of his neighbors, and feels those who spoke out against him during the March public hearing have “an ulterior motive,” as there is a neighbor’s right of way in between the two parts of his property.
But the same neighbors who spoke in March still express concern about the situation three months later. They worry about property value, lake quality and general neighborly interactions. They sometimes describe Grant’s property as a “junkyard.”
Susan Terhune, who owns land on nearby Red Oaks Lodge Road, is one of them. Her father, Terry, also lives nearby during the summers. Susan Terhune stays there over the winter part-time and it encompasses the right of way.
“The way Shawn functions is just not neighborly,” Susan Terhune said. “It makes for an uncomfortable living environment because if you want to go on a walk you have to go by his house.”
Stacey Richards, who lives next to the Terhunes during the summers, described the situation as “tense.”
“From an unbiased point of view if you just look at the facts, there are hundreds of people who have written letters but only a few people are brave enough to speak,” Richards said. “Everything that you can do wrong he has done, yet the town is still allowing this when there’s this pushback from residents.”
Terry Terhune, 91, expressed concern in the potential for commercial traffic through the residential neighborhood. He wants the town to take over the right of way and is concerned his property value will diminish, but also said he “wishes Grant all the success in the world in his business, but not in my distress.”
Ed Wurpel is also a seasonal resident on Red Oaks Lodge Road and believes Grant is following the law and doing what he’s supposed to do.
“People want to control property they don’t own, but it doesn’t work that way,” Wurpel said. “If you want to control property, you have to buy it. (Grant) is just trying to make a living and people just don’t like what he’s doing down there.”
BACK TO BUSINESS
Brightside Marina is unique in its business. There are plenty of boat rental companies, but few that also specialize in restoration of wood, metal and fiberglass boats.
One of the changes with the marina’s commercial permit is they can employ more workers. Grant has doubled his staff from two to four, plus him, in recent months.
“The sky’s the limit, basically,” he said.
Before opening Brightside Marine, Grant co-owned a logging equipment dealership and a heavy equipment dealership specializing in low impact forestry. While the pandemic impacted all industries, Grant’s business went virtually unscathed.
After a tough spring, last summer was one of Brightside Marine’s busiest ever. Save for a struggle to find new boat inventory, this summer again shapes up to be a busy one.
“Balls out,” Grant said. “It’s going to be crazy.”
Grant once worried about having to move. Limited revenues were cause for concern about profitability. Now, it’s back to normal, sort of.
“I’m still digesting it,” Grant said. “When you fight the fight for four years straight, you just get used to the fight. I feel a lot more peaceful.”