2014-12-12 / Front Page

Grist Mill delayed again

Residents continue to voice concerns over plans for River Heritage Educational Center
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT – Planning board members continued Wednesday, Dec. 4 to debate whether an application from the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust to rebuild the Perkins tidal grist mill should be approved.

The proposed River Heritage Educational Center has not only pitted residents against residents, it has also pitted residents against the trust.

Now in the fourth round of meetings, residents continued to make their case against the tidal mill project, and the board put off voting on the matter until either the next meeting, Wednesday, Dec. 17 or the meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 7.

Last year, the trust approached the planning board with the project. However, it was determined that the project was too large and did not adhere to the town’s land use ordinance. In September, Executive Director Tom Bradbury and his team presented reconfigured plans to the board.

The proposed facility will be on approximately the same footprint as the original gristmill, and function primarily as an educational center. Building a functioning grist mill has been proposed so that visitors can understand the role of the mill in the community and its power source, the Kennebunk River.

Members attempted to determine whether the project aligned with the land use ordinance, but most of the members had issues with the educational center, not the mill.

Attorney John Bannon of the Portland-based firm, Murray, Plumb & Murray, is representing several abutters who are opposed to the project. Attorneys Durward Parkinson and Ralph Austin are representing the trust.

Planning board member Peter Fellenz said a tidal mill fits with the educational aspect of the land use ordinance. “In fact,” Fellenz said, “it even creates the opportunity to observe stuff right there at the water’s edge and in to the water.”

But, Fellenz added, “I don’t see the big bulky building that’s the educational center component as justified within the rather limiting language of the resource protections law. If we didn’t deal with shoreland and resource protection, is it a residential facility of educational and scientific purposes?

“Yeah, but that didn’t mean building a college campus at the edge of the water and the tidal pool. I would say there’s too much proposed for that location with the restrictions of the resource protection and shoreland zone and the presence of another large building.”

Member Helen Conaty echoed Fellenz’s point. “As it’s been described by the applicant, I think that the use is a permitted one with the exception of the commercial aspect of the rentals. That, to me, is an issue and it doesn’t seem that it would be permitted.”

Board member Greg Reid said he recognized the proposed building wasn’t small, but his objections were aimed at the educational attachment and not the mill itself.

Fellow board member, John Hathaway, was a bit more critical.

“I think the mantra ‘educational’ and ‘for the children’ has been a bit overused and there a lot of things that are educational and, I’m sorry, but I have a lot of problem getting by the facts as presented as Peter and Greg suggested that it’s not a museum. It’s a building. Museums are educational, lots of things are educational, but I have a hard time seeing that it’s not a museum.” A predominant question voiced by many board, including town attorney, Amy Tchao was, “Does the proposed structure qualify as a permitted use in the resource protection zone?”

Said Chairman David Cling, “I think the issue is that some of the changes required by some of the members and the size of the building would require change in the application to enable them to vote in a way that the majority would agree that all the standards were met.”

Tchao said she will, in the meantime, compile a written version of the opinions expressed.

In an “ordinary” case, Cling said, the board wouldn’t take such elaborate measures to come to a decision. “But because we’ve got some complicated issues and we’ve got, probably, conditions to impose along the way, that it will give us a chance to make sure that we have absolute clarity on what we finally decide here.”

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