Discover more from Mackenzie Andersen's The Individual vs The Empire!
To Be Fair, Zoning Ordinances Must Accommodate Small Entrepreneurs and Home Businesses
Worker in Residence Zoning is needed as a mitigating factor in the working class- ownership class divide
The other day, I decided to go to Wiscasset to approach an antique dealer with whom I had an interesting conversation a few years ago and who seemed to have a sophisticated understanding of marketing. Since I no longer have a storefront or gallery space to display the collection of very early vintage pieces dating back to the late 1940’s, it makes sense to establish a collaboration with someone who has the space and the necessary professional understanding.
Finding collaborators is a challenge. Andersen Design is recognized for its historical significance in some circles, and more subtly recognized for its historical disruption in other circles, disruptive for having started with a mission to create a handmade product affordable to the middle classes. It takes a long view to understand that it is such a simple mission that is at issue in encounters with organizations so much larger than Andersen Design that I would not expect such organizations to place significance on a simple choice made by our small company. And yet repeated encounters say otherwise.
I have found that the same attitude applies toward small businesses and small entrepreneurs. In a centrally managed economy the government partners with large corporations, while consideration for the needs of the grassroots entrepreneurs is almost nonexistent and “businesses in a home” is a concept purged from housing and economic development lexicons.
Andersen Design is the name of the business located in the home where I was raised. All buildings that Andersen Design occupied in my home town were bulldozed into the ground when we moved out, despite those structures having historical significance in their own right.
The first Andersen gallery was a two-hundred-year-old barn built with wooden pegs, and the second was an elegant Mansard style home that was the oldest in the village of East Boothbay. One day a collector who worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, paused in the driveway to admire how my father had seamlessly integrated his new structure into the historic architecture.
Today the old homestead has been replaced with what appears to be another business in a home, housing short term rentals, in a new structure that made no attempt to integrate with the historical neighborhood, at all. Boothbay's new breed of developers prefer to “repeal and replace” the preexisting culture rather than integrating contemporary and historic styles into a richer cultural fabric that makes for some of the most interesting places in the world.
Some of the vintage pieces are currently online, priced a while back consistently with 1stdibs pricing. 1stdibs recommended that Andersen Design sell in their high-end contemporary design market. 1stdibs sells products in the traditional Andersen price point but does not promote that price point. It would have been much easier for us to start with the line we already have than to create a new line for 1stdibs, which would take at minimum a year’s time, but 1stdibd did not offer that option and so I prepared a portfolio of ideas.
Before I presented ideas to 1stdibs, I asked 1stDibs to sign a non-disclosure agreement, The negotiator reflexively declared that 1stdibs would never do such a thing. That was all I needed to know. 1stdibs is a large platform that runs as a one-way street. It sets all the terms and the vendor takes them or leaves them so I left. I prefer the intimate and more reciprocal world of the small entrepreneur. I believe there is room for a curated niche market and that Andersen Design has the qualifications to become such a platform, which does not have to be a huge dominating platform to be successful on its own terms.
Unfortunately, the dealer had passed away. His wife is a lovely person who offered the name of another antique dealer whom she said loves Andersen. The dealer was at the Boothbay Antique Fair with fresh stock of Andersen that mostly sold out that day. The phone conversation was pleasant and I followed up with an email introduction of myself, giving an overall picture of what I am trying to do and the pieces of the puzzle that I need to fit together in a mutually complimentary way, identifying my mission as marketing the vintage line and establishing a maker network. Having grown up embedded in the making process, I feel the making process is important to preserve and that Andersen assets can be a great help for others to establish slip casting and design studios.
However, the rapport was not there with the dealer and so I wished the dealer well and decided it was not meant to be pursued further.
That was discouraging but in my subjective experience, or perhaps my subjective wave function I have observed that if I have a negative encounter, the next encounter is its complementary opposite.
And so I set out to attend the Cafe Sci, at Bigelow Labs, for the first time.
Cafe Sci is a six-week series. The first in the series featured the Halcyon String Quartet, a group of young musicians who uses their talent to “cultivate environmental stewardship through music and the arts”. It was refreshing to find myself in an activist environment.
The music was hypnotic and evocative but the slide presentation suffered from the bright sun that found its way into the long hallway where the audience was situated. I was sitting toward the back and since the seats were arranged by length rather than width around the screen, at such a distance, I could not easily read the text that was on the screen, especially with the sunlight graying the presentation down. However, I was able to make out the visual images which combined with the music produced an emotive and urgent concern for our planet and the role that humans play in its future. That, by itself, was powerful.
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Toward the end I realized that if I squinted my eyes, I could bring the text into focus. The ending message expressed that it is not sufficient to give money to a beggar but one must also ask why we have a system that creates beggars.
The speaker then asked us to turn to the person next to us, and whether we know them or not, to engage in conversation. I introduced myself to the woman next to me, who revealed that she works at Bigelow. She was thrilled to meet me when I said that that I grew up on the peninsula and that my family had started a ceramic art and design company in 1952, but now we no longer have a facility so I am writing a newsletter. Her family has Andersen work and she was eager to read my newsletter and told me I was famous. I said I didn’t’ know that.
The most refreshing aspect of the exchange was that it was so unpretentious. Lately I have been meeting young women who work at Bigelow and all have had a friendly and unpretentious demeanor, which to my experience is the mark of a positive and engaging work environment, and probably not a hierarchal one.
Back in the 1950s Bigelow was located on Southport Island next to the aquarium that my parents frequented when they were sculpting their seals.
Bigelow Lab was around when Andersen Design started. It has grown to a much larger facility and is a part of the community without trying to dominate it.
I wonder how Andersen Design would have developed by now if we had been permitted to expand on the property we owned across the street from our house. Dad designed a building that would merge into the hillside so as not to disrupt the view, He had a vision of situating the production and gallery in a location where animals roamed, likely inspired by growing up on a farm. The farm is one of the first businesses in a home, working with the elements of the earth, as does ceramics.
The Town selectmen would not allow Dad to expand on property across the street from our house. I was not around at the time and so the other day I asked my sister what she thought. She said, Dad said, that there was an ole boy network that couldn’t control him any other way and so they used their power to stop the growth of his business when they saw that they could. I didn’t get a specific answer about what technical reasons were used to stop my father from expanding his business on land he owned in close proximity to his original grandfathered business, but East Boothbay is a town with many businesses including shipyards that employ more people than Andersen Design did, and make more noise, galleries, restaurants and a village store.
My parents moved to the region in 1952 precisely because Maine was a place where one had the freedom to set up a business in a home. Before they moved here Dad was Dean of the Akron Art Institute Art School where he had access to a state-of-the-art ceramic facility where he designed his first pieces. However, my parents were living in the type of controlled development that the State is now trying to implement in every municipality across the state of Maine, with the help of LD 2003 HP 1489 that has transferred home rule authority over municipal zoning and ordinances from the municipalities to the state. In that sort of a development, my parents could never have established Andersen Design because such a community would not allow it.
Andersen Studio had become a cultural institution with many of our customers who had summer homes at Ocean Point telling us that Andersen Studio was the first place they visited when returning for the season but the selectmen rarely acknowledge cultural contributions that small entrepreneurs make to the area. Today, more often than not, governmental power manifests as hierarchal power in which the individual is conditioned to position themselves within a power structure characterized by power over others, rather than incorporating a comprehensive cultural understanding and a service attitude.
Historically our selectmen have frequently closed down successful small businesses like Stimpson’s Boat Yard and Lester Spears Ice Palace. After closing down Spears location on the roadside and inviting Spears to locate instead on the Town Common, the selectmen then made issue over a 2$ entry fee which offended some local residents who charged Spears with making a profit on Town property for an event that was originally located on property owned by Spears. How they arrived at the conclusion that a 2$ fee is the equivalency of a profit in an event in which Spears was investing his own money over and above what he needed to do or why a small entrepreneur should be faulted for making a profit for organizing an event in which all the other vendors are there to make a profit was nothing to be considered by the unneighborly folks that pushed this issue onto the Town selectmen during the Christmas season. One of the primary leaders of the assault on Spears praised the town workers who put up some of the Christmas lights saying she was sure those workers took pride in their work, though it is unlikely she ever conversationally engaged with them or would know how to distinguish them from the workers, who worked for Spears, who added additional lights. She verbally treated Spears and associates as no good ruffians as was anyone whose business might occupy a truck during the cold days of winter.
After that the Antique Fair was given a hard time over an entry fee that they had been charging for years and when the John DeSimone wrote a letter to the editor explaining why the Fair had to change to a voluntary donation, the selectmen hinted that the Antique Fair would be closed down in retaliation for DeSimone voicing his view publicly and mocked the idea that the contribution that the Antique Fair made to a local nonprofit was large enough to matter.
While allowing one type of business in the home, short term rentals, to agressively expand without interference, the Boothbay selectmen prohibited artist Richard Reinert from conducting a four-person class citing that it was a special residential area that prohibits retail sales and educational facilities. Ok- then rewrite those ordinances to allow a reasonable exception for size. Why should a four-or five-person gathering be prevented in a private home merely because it is educational?
Later when I and others commented on public issues in the Boothbay Register, several Town leaders wrote letters declaring it inappropriate to comment about public concerns in the newspaper as they should only be discussed in forums conducted by them, they said.
But even the newspaper moderator spoke out in protest. Today there is a new trend among high school students submitting letters to the editor on a regular basis, which is very cool.
So it seems that the reason Andersen Design was stopped from expanding into the location that was most suited for it was because of power politics. motivated by personal politics. As the story goes, the selectmen came to apologize to my Dad for what they had done, when they were dying.
Apologies aside, the damage was done. My parents set up a facility in Portland but it was not sustainable over the long run because it was too distant. I am certain that if Andersen Design had been able to expand in the location that was appropriate for it, it would still exist in that location today.
Andersen Design was a unique, creative and innovative business developing ceramic bodies, glazes, decorating techniques and forms utilizing both scientific and artistic talents and skills, the same skills that they call STEAM today, but the local community does not know it when they see it because leaders and bureaucrats are seldom involved in the work process and, as they say, It takes one (an innovator) to know one. Andersen Design practiced the same kind of on-the-job innovation that is sought after today by large corporations but ceramics is not on central managements “targeted industry” list, making it even more difficult for bureaucrats to recognize that Andersen Design was an innovator in its own time, or to see any reason why an established ceramic industry should be preserved.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to have spent so much of my life engaged in such a rewarding process. Other people focus on the value of the products but for me it matters that the work process continues. The assets our company can be used to create engaging work possibilities for future generations. Most of us spend our lives working. The quality of that time, for better or for worse, affects everything, including human relationships.
I can visualize our assets as the basis of a workers in residence community, provided that there is zoning that allows such a community to exist, Andersen assets consist of
a large line of classic and marketable slip cast designs that can be endlessly and creatively interpreted.
a brand name that stands for individuality.
My proposed Museum of American Designer Craftsmen would be a fiscal sponsor to help individual studios acquire the funding they need for facilities and projects, as well as a gallery and community gathering space.
That is an economic development and a housing concept- as is the concentrated housing zone and the 100-million-dollar school, which are a thinly veiled singular and unified plan, in which the housing facilities are too cramped to foster a space for creative work so that the inhabitants must instead work at corporate headquarters in the guise of a public educational system, (speculation on my part), where the ownership of innovations will be claimed by the owners of the facilities, who to date remain as hidden as the ownership of the concentrated housing zones since the boards elected to use §5654. Conditional gifts, to fund the school rather than the educational foundation set up for tax-deductible contributions.
The University of Maine is at the core of the Maine public educational system, and has it worked out so that if you want to own rights to your own intellectual property, you also have to own your own facility-which can be provided by worker in resident zoning. What an exciting community it could be!
The Museum of Designer Craftsmen (see Andersen Profile) is conceived of as a community and an economic development and housing resource but when I presented my concept to the JECD, Wendy Wolf would not even acknowledge it, and later I was sent the message through the grape vine that I should not approach the JECD but should instead attend their meetings in silence for a year to show my respect. In other words -show us respect by silencing your own voice- that is the empty way of the hierarchy, whose toes I had apparently stepped on by expressing my own idea.
I do not experience my government as serving my interests, but in fact the government is supposed to serve the people, not rule them. At this time the government acts as a ruler, but that’s just the (gas)lighting. We have to act on our own, for ourselves and express our voices, which is about all I can do today but tomorrow is another day and one thing leads to another.
Originally, the Legislature deemed the centrally managed economy into being in 1976, they used the strong small business economy that existed in Maine at that time as a reason to step in and help the small businesses acquire capital. Instead, small businesses have been used to subsidize large businesses. Today the Legislature excludes the free enterprise sector from participating in its 10-year plan by making it a requirement that private sector participants be non-profit organizations. That makes it all the more likely that the new state-municipal zoning ordinances will not accommodate small entrepreneurs, remote workers, and businesses in a home, and instead society will be conceived of as composed of as a short-term rental theme park and the “workforce”, which to the degree that the working classes continue to be excluded from ownership means “corporate slave”- and essential workers- those workers doing the jobs that the hegemony needs to have done for them, no independents, no free enterprise.
Such a community as I envision would not be exclusive to ceramic slip casting but the strength of our assets would provide a strong basis to provide impetus for the growth of a worker in residence community. Imagine if such a community co-existed with concentrated housing zones. Which will become more sought after? The purpose of a worker in residence community requires enough living and working space so that work activity can take place. Although LD 2003 HP1489 prohibits any restrictions on housing density, it still does not mandate that housing density be as overcrowded as is being planned by the Boothbay Regional Development Corporation at 3.5 the density of the surrounding area. It needs to be figured out how one can establish that more spacious density. Perhaps the combined use can be a way. The study for LD 2023-HP 1489 included neither short term rentals or businesses in a home (which includes short term rentals) so neither do the state municipal zoning ordinances govern them. After all, if there can be industrial parks, and overcrowded housing zones, then why not worker-in-residence zones?
LD2003 HP1489 is very arguably unconstitutional. The best way of getting past it, would be for it to be constitutionally challenged in the court and win.
Hidden ownership must have a reason
The destructive attitude toward small businesses by local selectmen is in stark contrast to the attitude the selectmen show toward a large corporation. It is astounding that the Boothbay Regional Development Corporation is able to secure public funding through the American Rescue Plan, TIF Financing, and most likely aiming to be funded through LD 724 while withholding information about its identity and corporate structure.
The Boothbay Regional Development Corporation has no website, and has never identified its board members or investors. It received its 501 3C status in February so it is too soon for filing a 990 ,but all sections on GuideStar except financials, are empty, including the section titled Operations, The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.
Aside from announcing three key officers, including Erin Cooperrider, one of three private legislative commissioner who wrote the framework for LD 2003 HP 1849, and aside from Paul Coulombs self-confessed involvement as a funder, the board members and investors in the BRDC have never been identified.
A story about the closing on the acquisition of 31 acres of land, is written by an anonymous author identified only as the Boothbay Regional Development Corporation. The narrative focuses on the Giles family who sold the land to the development, telling of their long local history taking the story back to the grandfather of Eldridge Giles and the work the Giles family were involved in. It is an interesting history of a local family but it also is a story about the transference of land that avoids the subject of the party that purchased the land. or almost avoids it as one might think from reading the article that the Giles family had made a donation rather than a sale of the land and that their only interest in transferring ownership of the property is because they believe so much in the purpose of the anonymous corporation that now owns the land.
The story attempts to use a local family who sold the land to the development to brand the corporation and its unidentified owners, which backfires by drawing attention to the need to make a smokescreen around the ownership. That should give the community concern. No one tries to hide something without a reason.
It is not until the last paragraph of the article that the BRDC is mentioned:
BRDC’s initial plans for the property include extension of water and sewer service to the site. This work is planned to begin in the fall of 2023. The first of several phases of housing construction on the Butler Road site will consist of 24 for-sale condominiums targeted at households making less than 80% of AMI ($68,160 for a family of four in 2023). Future phases will include single-family and multi-family housing, both for-sale and for-rent. source (emphasis mine)
It takes a great naivety or lack of awareness of previous statements made by the BRDC to believe that the BRDC is going to sell condominium ownership to those whose income is below 80% AMI since in September 2022 Erin Cooperrider said this:
Phase 1 includes land acquisition and extension of water and sewer to the site. Phase 2 is a “proof of concept” for affordable home ownership targeted to households between 80% and 100% of area medium income. Her research showed household income between $64,000 and $87,000 for a family of four met the criteria. Cooperrider believed the first available housing wouldn’t occur for at least two more years. The group envisions selling 1,200 square foot homes at a below-market, subsidized cost. Source
The law was enacted months later in April 2023 and says:
HP 1070 An Act to Establish an Affordable Housing Permitting Process House of Representatives, April 13, 2023
1. Affordable housing. "Affordable housing" means a decent, safe and sanitary dwelling unit for which the cost of occupancy is no more than 30% of a family's household income for a family with an income up to 80% of the area median income for rental housing and an income up to 120% of the area median income for owned housing as established by the United States
Take note of the fact that if one searches for the article quoted above titled Boothbay approves $50K in ARPA funds for housing project using the Boothbay Register search bar, it will not display but if you search the same title on Google it displays. This has happened with other articles about the BRDC that I have quoted in this newsletter. I don’t know what powers that be make that happen but It is just more evidence that the BRDC has something to conceal. The organization has been around for months and yet remains largely opaque, publishing simplified narratives that apparently convince a lot of people since Boothbay voted to award this development project TIF Funding and ARP funding.
The Town selectmen are apparently impressed just because an organization is large and promises to deliver substantial funding. Therefor no questions are asked of the organization, which is completely trusted. If the Town selectmen do not hold such organizations accountable by asking them for the same verifying information that would be expected of anyone else, then who does?
Instead of asking verifying questions of an organization looking to procure public funding, the Town selectmen ask “How can we help” a far cry from the way the Town selectmen treat small entrepreneurs as I witnessed when I attended some of the public meetings in which the rapport between the selectman and the entrepreneur was not cooperative, it was confrontational.
This is a shame since a small peninsula could be a much more unique community by nurturing the small entrepreneural spirit