2014-10-24 / Front Page

Grist mill talks roll on

Residents divided on proposal for the mill and educational center
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — A proposal to build a replica of the former Perkins Grist Mill, a historic landmark that once stood for prosperity and pride, is proving to be a hotly divisive issue among residents.

A planning board public hearing was held Thursday, Oct. 16 and at the end of a threehour session, the board voted to extend the discussion into the next meeting Nov. 5.

Attorneys representing both abutters and the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, the organization proposing the project, addressed the crowd and the board.

Last year, the trust approached the planning board with a proposed replication of the grist mill; however, it was determined that the project was too large in scope and did not adhere to the town’s land use ordinance.

A year later,in September,Kennebunkport Conservation Trust Executive Director Tom Bradbury and his team presented reconfigured plans to the board for a project they are calling the River Heritage Educational Center.

The facility, with approximately the same footprint as the original grist mill, would function primarily for educational purposes.

To ensure that it provides a primary source for learning, a functioning grist mill would also need to be built; the grist mill and the educational center, would be in one building.)

The purpose of the educational center, said Ralph Austin, a Kennebunk real estate attorney representing the trust, is to “educate the general public about the Kennebunk River, how it has contributed to life in the Kennebunks, how it continues to do so to this day.

“It will provide opportunities for everyone to explore and understand the natural aspects of life on and adjacent to the Kennebunk River, as well as various uses to which the river has been put in the years past.”

Kennebunk attorney Durward Parkinson, who also represents the trust, said some activities could include “meet the miller” and watch him perform various mill activities (i.e. grinding corn) and learn “basic history and understanding of the mill, how it interacts with tide levels, nature on the Kennebunk River, and how the physical (mill) space and machinery are used for milling.”

Parkinson added that the center will also serve to answer related questions, such as, “What role did the mill play in colonial Arundel? What is the lexicon of milling? What foods were made from what was ground at the mill?”

Residents who oppose replicating the grist mill are divided on what it means to preserve history. For those in opposition, reconstruction is counter intuitive to preservation and conservation, said John Bannon, an attorney from Portlandbased Murray, Plumb and Murray, which represents residential abutters.

“I realize that the trust has a concept of historic preservation that includes creating new structures that have not existed for 20 years; however, archeology does not mean that. Archeology is the study of remains of things that are old. They are not the creation or replicas of things that once were,” Bannon said.

“Again, what we’re doing here is introducing a disparate element into this historic district. I’m afraid that the Perkins Grist Mill does not exist. I’m sorry, but it has been gone, it hasn’t been operated since 1937 and it has not physically existed, except as archeological remains, since 1994,” Bannon said. “So, what the trust is proposing is not to protect historic resources here. It is, in fact, impairing them by introducing new, disparate elements.”

Bannon then defined the word conserve in the dictionary: “... the careful preservation and protection of something – it is not the creation of something new.”

Austin responded, “We want to educate the public as to the importance of the grist mill to the Kennebunkport community. The only way I’m aware of to do that is to actually have a working grist mill, and if you’re going to have a working grist mill, its going to produce some product ... That does not turn this in to an industrial use on the property.”

The role of the planning board in approving or not approving a proposal is to objectively determine whether a proposal meets the standards set forth in the land use ordinance, said Chairman David Cling.

All residents who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, opposed the project. Allison Daniels, a West Street abutter and client of Bannon’s, read a letter for friend and author, Joyce Butler, who could not attend the hearing. Butler wrote the two-volume set, “Kennebunkport: The Evolution of an American Town,” published last year.

“Dear, Tom (Bradbury): it is always uncomfortable to disagree with friends, but as a member of KCT, I assume you will be expecting feedback on the grist mill project, which I do not favor,” Butler’s letter read. She proposed alternative ways the trust could facilitate interactive learning about the Kennebunk River and grist mill: “As for education of the (Kennebunk) river, the trust might offer boat tours from the site. Such an offering would cost less than putting up a building.”

Butler’s concluding point echoed Bannon’s. “A replica or other replacement of the mill will not bring it back. It would amount to change, not preservation. In my opinion, the open site is more important and worth preserving.”

Want to comment on this story? Visit our website at www.post.mainelymediallc.com and let us know your thoughts.

Return to top