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Pre-homesteading fieldwork: learning about MAINE before buying land there or in VT, NH  RSS feed

 
T.S. Moss
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What a great resource and group of people here on permies.  I've read hundreds/thousands of posts over recent years.   I intend for this first posting of mine to be my launch pad for contribution.

I'll soon be touring around Maine, focusing mainly on the coastal (the Belfast area?) and western parts, and will be meeting, chatting, buying a beer for, and/or helping out any one who can help to inform me about the feasibility/legality of living how I want to live in these parts of the state.  Details below:

I'm from MA, but have been mostly away from New England the last several years traveling, living in the SE US, and helping+learning on other people's projects+homesteads.  Since I want to stay in NE, I'm now focusing on comparing Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine because I have rejected my home state as an option due to restrictive codes, strict enforcement, high fees, mandated licenses, etc, despite the fact that I like western MA, where I went to grad school. Over the last several months I've done heaps of research on the factors listed in the previous sentence, in addition to land prices, municipal+state governance, climate and geography, differing state cultures and taxes, and more.   I'm now tangibly familiar with VT and NH, as I drove around, work-traded via HelpX, and met enough people in each state who informed me about such factors.

Just to give a sense of what I mean, while being brief:
-In MA the building code, septic system mandates, and zoning (involves the town checking up on your compliance several+ times during building) apply statewide, and all are highly enforced [4 x ]. 
-In much of VT there is an owner-builder residential code exemption, all residential is mandated to have an approved water supply+septic system, zoning is patchy, and enforcement of all is much less than in MA [3 x , 1 x ]. 
-In NH the building code applies statewide, an outhouse and 1 ft^3 drywell are legal for homes without pressurized running water, zoning is patchy, and enforcement of all is much less than in MA [3 x , 1 x ]. 
-In Maine the building code doesn't apply in towns under 4,000 unless adopted and there are exemptions for timber frame and log cabin, an outhouse and mini stand-alone leach field are legal for homes without pressurized running water, and I don't know much about zoning or enforcement

Basically, more or less, on my owned land I want to be able to experiment on a whim with whatever building and living style suits my fancy (e.g, log cabin, bender tent, thatch without borax, no pressure treating or cement or hurricane straps, etc and sawdust toilet, greywater into mulch or to water plants, etc and multiple residences without adequate frontage on public road) as long as it doesn't tangibly negatively affect the surrounding people or nonhuman nature.  I'll grant the stipulation that I'll be on a dirt road with no visibility from neighbors.

I want to not live in fear of getting evicted, my property condemned, or fined.  With peace of mind, I want to be able to invite guests there and to not have to lay low / hide out.

I just entered midlife at 30 years old, am financially equipped to buy land outright, and am serious about making this happen this year.  For the record, for anyone reading, I'd like to be neighbors to permaculturey-minded and practicing folks and/or to have landmates.  If you're not signed up for permies.com to contact me, you may email via tomotomo7373 at gmx     and you know the rest (trying to avoid auto email spammers).
 
Josh Kunkel
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Location: Central Texas
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If you make it as far up the coast of Maine to reach Deer Isle then I would suggest the Deer Isle Hostel. It is a hostel based in a hard working homestead. As I'm fairly familiar with it I could type for a while to describe it for you, but these links will do a great job:

https://deerislehostel.wordpress.com/

https://penobscotbaypress.com/news/2013/aug/1/21st-century-homesteading-demonstrated-at-deer-isl/#.WTcK2MBFy-o

https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/travel/2013/08/10/taste-homesteading-maine-hostel/P9FIYIYDd6sw9vcO7hQZaK/story.html

For a nominal fee you can stay at and immerse yourself in just what you described, the resources here from the buildings to the gardens and potluck meals are the best exposure I can think of.

I will try to log in later and fix the links formatting on my computer, but there is spotty cellphone internet at my farm so it may take me a while  (I'm typing on my phone). You should be able to copy/paste the links in to your web browser for now.

-Josh
 
T.S. Moss
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Josh,

You're spot on! Thank you.  That they are running a public business, more or less, makes this beyond relevant to the situation I solicited for information.

I'll add a visit to the hostel to my itinerary.
 
Chloe Carpenter
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Hi T.S. Moss! So nice to find you.

We're interested in the same area (Vt) for similar reasons. We have a connection to the area and would appreciate less zoning and a chance to experiment. We plan to start scouting this summer, as we're also ready to buy. It would be nice to have (more) friends in the area. We're youngish too, and very unusual for our group, so I definitely understand what you mean about reaching your midlife crisis at 30, lol. What do you plan to do/ raise/ grow?
 
Maureen Atsali
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I am from Vermont originally, and would advise great care before buying there.  There is a lot of variance from town to town on ordnances and adherence.  The small town where I grew up was a real pain in the rear, and it got worse over time as the influx of rich out-of-state city transplants got into local politics.  And the property taxes can be killer.  I love Vermont, its beautiful, my dad still has 10 acres there that has been in the family for generations.  But I wouldn't but a property there now.  I might opt for an unorganized township in Maine.
 
T.S. Moss
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Chloe Carpenter wrote:Hi T.S. Moss! So nice to find you.

We're interested in the same area (Vt) for similar reasons. We have a connection to the area and would appreciate less zoning and a chance to experiment. We plan to start scouting this summer, as we're also ready to buy. It would be nice to have (more) friends in the area. We're youngish too, and very unusual for our group, so I definitely understand what you mean about reaching your midlife crisis at 30, lol. What do you plan to do/ raise/ grow?



Likewise, Chloe! 

Especially if I end up in VT, we should develop our connection, but even if I end up in NH or partway into Maine, it's not so far across New England states.

After being worried about VT's strict state law about approved water supply and septic system for all more-than-60-days-per-year-residences, no exceptions, I was pleased to find out that enforcement is a much different matter.  Some factors that aid in avoiding/delaying an enforcement action are: being down a dirt road and not very publicly visible, being in a town without zoning (but even the zoning of some towns doesn't add much hassle except mandating a wastewater system design), that no one complains, that there's no greywater and/or blackwater pooling on the ground's surface or discharging into a water body, etc.            

Whereas Massachusetts' (my home state) building codes, septic laws, zoning, etc seem to be applicable everywhere in the state, even the smallest towns of only a few hundred people, and enforcement is strict; in each of the northern 3 states it seems that on a town-by-town basis the full range is present, from nearly rural Missouri-level enforcement to MA suburbs-level enforcement.

Anyway, maybe you already know all of that.

At first consideration, I liked the area between white river junction and montpelier. 

To answer your question; as I'll be buying building-less land, focusing on shelter will be a top priority.  I'll aim to build from naturals materials on site and from nearby.  I'm interested in orchards, perennials, food forests, etc and modifying the land to be more productive (e.g., creating ponds and marshes). 
 
T.S. Moss
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Maureen Atsali wrote:I am from Vermont originally, and would advise great care before buying there.  There is a lot of variance from town to town on ordnances and adherence.  The small town where I grew up was a real pain in the rear, and it got worse over time as the influx of rich out-of-state city transplants got into local politics.  And the property taxes can be killer.  I love Vermont, its beautiful, my dad still has 10 acres there that has been in the family for generations.  But I wouldn't but a property there now.  I might opt for an unorganized township in Maine.


Thanks for the input Maureen.

That echoes the sentiment I've read and heard several+ times about VT; that the 'I'm a vermonter, I do want a wanter' culture is diluting away with the numbers and influence of newcomers.  (I wouldn't be one of them in that sort of way!)

I hear you on the unorganized townships being attractive destinations, but I think, in general, they're too remote from human activity for me. I'd like a several mile or less bicycle ride to the market, library, bar, etc.

Maureen, are there certain regions of VT that you can generalize as being minimally affected by the 'transplants'?
 
Dwight Smith
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Hi T.S. Moss and Chloe,

We are from CT. and have been looking and researching those 3 states/areas for the past 4 years or so on and off.

Viewed and talked to probably over 800 properties on line throughout those years. We would look at enough to narrow it down to about 10-15 places.
Map them all out and take a trip for a week or two and check them out. Did it this way and walked on the land of about 100 properties, mostly in Maine.
We learned a lot in the process. And still learning. To much to go into here.
Yes, we are picky but with very good reason.
Sometimes one little thing can make or break your success on your own (unless money is not an option). The states have what I call "pockets" made up of climate zones, people, towns, zoning, resources, that are amazingly diverse and or stuck in there own ways while open in others. Some of these small towns are more polluted then the bigger cities. Yet, you would never know it without spending time and talking to the right locals.
Being an outsider is an interesting challenge on your own to say the least.
You wouldn’t believe some of the stories we have heard.

We are still looking for an area to live in but we are really looking for the right kind of people we want to live around.

We feel like having the permies type of mindset with others is the way to go.

Work together in healthy ways and share this permies way of life.
Many working hands can make light work.
Getting ones ego out of the way can create a sustainable win/win in the process.

So for us, we would like to team up with other healthy enough folks to share in resources and play off each other to live a more sustainable and simple life.

Your in MA and we are in CT.
Perhaps if we are somewhat on the same page with similar issues we could get together and share information and see how it goes.
Chloe, don’t know your location but if it’s somewhat in the area that you could join us as well, then all the more fun.
 
T.S. Moss
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Dwight Smith wrote:...have been looking and researching those 3 states/areas for the past 4 years or so on and off.

Viewed and talked to probably over 800 properties on line throughout those years. We would look at enough to narrow it down to about 10-15 places.
Map them all out and take a trip for a week or two and check them out. Did it this way and walked on the land of about 100 properties, mostly in Maine.
We learned a lot in the process. And still learning. To much to go into here.
Yes, we are picky but with very good reason.


Dwight, I hope you can find what you're looking for!  I'm impressed by your persistence and patience. 


Dwight Smith wrote: The states have what I call "pockets" made up of climate zones, people, towns, zoning, resources, that are amazingly diverse and or stuck in there own ways while open in others.


Do you have any specific "pockets" that you'd recommend I look into?


Dwight Smith wrote: Some of these small towns are more polluted then the bigger cities. Yet, you would never know it without spending time and talking to the right locals.


Will you mention the most common sources of, or clues for, said pollution in some small towns?


Dwight Smith wrote:We are still looking for an area to live in but we are really looking for the right kind of people we want to live around.

We feel like having the permies type of mindset with others is the way to go.

Work together in healthy ways and share this permies way of life.
Many working hands can make light work.
Getting ones ego out of the way can create a sustainable win/win in the process.

So for us, we would like to team up with other healthy enough folks to share in resources and play off each other to live a more sustainable and simple life.


I like what you've written here about teaming up and it, generally, is something I aspire to.  It seems more practical, fulfilling, in-line with our nature, and long-term-viable than the prevalent go-it-alone arrangements of our home economies, or lack thereof.  Yet, I would approach this carefully if making a substantial commitment/investment because of a concern I have, which is that the collective arrangement of home economies in the U.S. is so rare nowadays and when attempted is, most often, brief before dissolution.   This is because of at least several reasons I can think of, which I won't propound here or now.


Dwight Smith wrote: Perhaps if we are somewhat on the same page with similar issues we could get together and share information and see how it goes.


I would like to discuss this with you.  Along with any replies to my above questions that you'd rather send by private message, feel free to propound the last topic in more detail.
 
Jules Harrell
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Location: upstate NY near MA/VT
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Hi everyone. I hear you on the sentiments about VT. This ain't west Texas that's for sure!

On the other hand there's ways to do things that work really well in VT. We have acreage in upstate NY where we live, and 80 acres in Readsboro, VT. Our taxes for our Readsboro land are only 300 per year, as the land is in the Land Use program. Our dilemma is that we are purchasing land here in NY, and are selling our VT property because we just dont' have the time to build two homesteads.

Our VT property has five streams, all spring fed, no neighbors, and all surrounding land is in the Land Use program. You can take two acres out and build on them, while keeping the other 78 acres tax free. Anyone want to know more contact me directly at photonicgirl@yahoo.com. The Land Use program stays with the property so whoever purchases it already has a plan in place and the forester who signs off on our tax bill.

BTW, I am a ski patroller at Bromley in Peru, VT and do a lot of business in Bennington as we are at the border. I am pro VT! I bought the property planning to homestead there. Our NY home has become the base, as we have 15 animals here now. You have to know how to work it. Right now you can build solar, and be legally completely off the grid. On our VT property we could build a LARGE hunting lodge and pay no additional taxes.

Before we diss VT, remember, it's a sweet state, one area code, and plenty of room to relax.

Jules

 
T.S. Moss
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Jules Harrell wrote:...I hear you on the sentiments about VT. This ain't west Texas that's for sure!

On the other hand there's ways to do things that work really well in VT.

...

You have to know how to work it. Right now you can build solar, and be legally completely off the grid. On our VT property we could build a LARGE hunting lodge and pay no additional taxes.

Before we diss VT, remember, it's a sweet state, one area code, and plenty of room to relax.



Thanks for chiming in, Jules, and tempering our wording about VT.


From my previous readings of the forum and now on this thread, it seems that VT has a lot of representation, relatively.  I hope that some people who live in Maine, or with experience there, will chime in as well.  I have much more experience and knowledge about VT, than NH, which in turn I know more about than Maine.  In a few days, I'll be in Maine visiting and touring around for several weeks.
 
Kate Muller
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The town of Grafton is a good place to look in NH.  It is a half hour from the nearest supermarket, low property taxes for NH,  Their are no permits required other than the state septic, it has a very strong pro liberty population, chunks of the town have DSL internet, and it is 35 minutes from Hanover-Lebanon if you are looking to sell farm goods.  It is the easiest place in NH to do what you are looking to do south of the white mountains.  last I checked  Wentworth doesn't have zoning or permits other than state level septic too but there is nothing near it in terms of conveniences. 
http://www.townofgraftonnh.com/home.html

When looking for properties keep in mind that there are state and local restrictions on "wet lands"  Basically they severely limit what can be built within X number of feet of the designated wet land.  These regulations can make a lot unbuildable.   Also watch out for deed restrictions, and seasonal camps.  These are cottages that are zoned so you can't live in them year round and some people will complain if you try and live in them all year. 

Also lots can have reduced taxes due to "Current Use" which has it's own set of restrictions and regulations that can come with some nasty tax penalties.

When shopping for my home in NH I knew I wanted a smaller lot and wanted to avoid wet land restrictions. I used the NH Fish and Game Topographic Maps to see what the state has labeled as wet lands. 
http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/maps/topo.html

Like much of Northern New England NH regulations, zoning, permits, house and lot size minimums, and other aspects of "the department of making you sad" varies dramatically from town to town.  I suggest researching each town's regulations before you settle down somewhere. 


 
Dwight Smith
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Was busy over the weekend so I couldn’t get back.

Kate, like what you said and that is what we did...
(Like much of Northern New England NH regulations, zoning, permits, house and lot size minimums, and other aspects of "the department of making you sad" varies dramatically from town to town.  I suggest researching each town's regulations before you settle down somewhere.) 

Feet on the ground is what we were finding that we had to do. It was a lot of work both financially and time wise. It took us months just to come up with all the questions to ask that covered every aspect before we took a 6 hr one way drive to look at it and discover it was nothing like we were told it was. Your idea of wet and my idea may be totally different.

Specific pockets isn’t easy to recommend because each area is so unique and has it’s own set of circumstances that I would like and can live with and your in a different place so it wouldn’t be a fit for you.

Pollution is an issue everywhere you go. You can’t live without it it seems. As part of your research in some of these cool towns just find out what factories are in the area and what is in the river that you may or may not want to tolerate, or live down stream of. If your into clean water, look for area’s that the bottle water companies have wells around. We found it to be a good indicator that the water around is good.

I know what your saying about teaming up. We have looked at a lot of options from all around the world.

We totally agree with you on the several reasons you can think of but won’t propound here.

We have come to the conclusion in the direction of the structure like what Paul has done. And achieve it through setting it up in the right kind of trusts. Otherwise you will never achieve win/win. (not your minds version) If you don’t have that as your foundation you have nothing.

We would prefer to get to know you privately. A picture say’s a thousand words so to speak. Sometimes one phone call can get to the bottom of things faster then 3,000 emails/forum chats.

This way if we are not on the same page we won’t waste anyone’s time.
Plus, it’s been about a year that we took notes, so talking, seeing a map, and finding some notes would stir up our memory as to what is what.

We started looking in VT. Then looked at NH both briefly and found the land cost less in Maine but you really have to look. Or know some locals you can trust with feet on the ground.
Many people talk a good talk, but when it requires walking any of it, is a very different story.

Really make sure you figure out and narrow down how you want to live your life in this new direction mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, socially and energetically. Include these 7 aspect of yourself and you will be able to be and apply balance to yourself, others and the land.

I’m here because I bought one of the kickstart spots on Paul’s course and ended up reading various posts and found this one.
 
T.S. Moss
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Kate Muller wrote:The town of Grafton is a good place to look in NH. .....  Wentworth doesn't have zoning or permits other than state level septic too but there is nothing near it in terms of conveniences. 


Hi Kate.  Thanks for the tips.  I've been recommended those places in NH by others, so if I choose NH, then I'll definitely take a good luck at those towns.


Kate Muller wrote:When looking for properties keep in mind that there are state and local restrictions on "wet lands"  Basically they severely limit what can be built within X number of feet of the designated wet land.  These regulations can make a lot unbuildable.   Also watch out for deed restrictions, and seasonal camps.  These are cottages that are zoned so you can't live in them year round and some people will complain if you try and live in them all year. 


I wasn't aware that land/lots can be zoned to only allow seasonal use of them.  I'll look into that, thanks.  Maybe you mean, simply, a restriction is on seasonal camps to prevent them from being full-time residences unless installing upgrades, etc.


Kate Muller wrote:Like much of Northern New England NH regulations, zoning, permits, house and lot size minimums, and other aspects of "the department of making you sad" varies dramatically from town to town.  I suggest researching each town's regulations before you settle down somewhere. 


That's what I keep being told.  Right now, as I'm in Maine, I'm focusing mainly on the midcoast region regarding finding towns with that fit my requirements, so any advice relevant to Maine would be appreciated. 

 
T.S. Moss
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Dwight Smith wrote:Specific pockets isn’t easy to recommend because each area is so unique and has it’s own set of circumstances that I would like and can live with and your in a different place so it wouldn’t be a fit for you.


While I think I understand what you're saying, that everyone has different criteria; I think what I'm looking for at this step is very objective: minimal restrictions and/or regulations that allow simple ecological living.  For example, a town I'm visiting in western Maine has no zoning or limit on residences per lot, there is no housing characteristics minimums, no certificate of occupancy, there is no mandate for approved water supply, there is neither requirement for public road frontage nor approved driveway for emergency vehicles' access.  There is a building permit, but it only is for triggering assessment and to check for a few things: wetlands, fuel-burning heater safety, building egress safety, electric if applicable, and plumbing at least to comply with state wastewater rules which allow a minimum of a 8'x14' leachfield which owner can install oneself (+ pay for permit and design).   I know of places without building permits and more lenient in some ways than all the factors in the last sentence.  And there are towns with more regulations.


Dwight Smith wrote:As part of your research in some of these cool towns just find out what factories are in the area and what is in the river that you may or may not want to tolerate, or live down stream of. If your into clean water, look for area’s that the bottle water companies have wells around. We found it to be a good indicator that the water around is good.


Good tip


Dwight Smith wrote:We have come to the conclusion in the direction of the structure like what Paul has done. And achieve it through setting it up in the right kind of trusts. Otherwise you will never achieve win/win. (not your minds version) If you don’t have that as your foundation you have nothing.


I'm familiar in reading with land trusts and community land trusts.  I'll look into Paul's setup, as I don't know much about it currently.



Dwight Smith wrote:We would prefer to get to know you privately. A picture say’s a thousand words so to speak. Sometimes one phone call can get to the bottom of things faster then 3,000 emails/forum chats.

This way if we are not on the same page we won’t waste anyone’s time.
Plus, it’s been about a year that we took notes, so talking, seeing a map, and finding some notes would stir up our memory as to what is what.


A phone call sounds good to me.  P.M. me.  I'm focusing on looking around Maine, presently, but afterwards, when I have a good base of comparison for each of these 3 states, may be a good time.


Dwight Smith wrote:Really make sure you figure out and narrow down how you want to live your life in this new direction mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, socially and energetically. Include these 7 aspect of yourself and you will be able to be and apply balance to yourself, others and the land.


I'll admit, this is tricky for me because I think I have a mix of 1) all of that figured out to a large degree but haven't categorized it like that in my thinking, and 2) that I want freedom and flexibility and a slate blank enough to improvise and experiment as I go.  Here, I am mostly talking about my plans for my intentions with buying land.  Regarding a vision of collective living, I don't think at this time I can be as concrete in knowing my wants and needs.
 
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