2015-07-31 / Front Page

Floating restaurant treading water

Officials await site plan proposal for schooner-turned 150-seat restaurant
By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


This 125-foot schooner, The Spirit of Massachusetts, now anchored at Performance Marine in Kennebunk’s Lower Village, is scheduled for conversion into a 150-seat floating restaurant, once it gets past the town’s site plan review board. According to Chris Osterrieder, the town’s director of community development, planning and codes, the stumbling block is not so much the retrofit itself, but the question of adequate parking for the facility in an already crowded tourist mecca. (Duke Harrington photo) This 125-foot schooner, The Spirit of Massachusetts, now anchored at Performance Marine in Kennebunk’s Lower Village, is scheduled for conversion into a 150-seat floating restaurant, once it gets past the town’s site plan review board. According to Chris Osterrieder, the town’s director of community development, planning and codes, the stumbling block is not so much the retrofit itself, but the question of adequate parking for the facility in an already crowded tourist mecca. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — What could be a new and unique attraction to the dining scene in Kennebunk’s Lower Village is on hold while town planners await a completed site plan application — a delay prompted by their refusal to issue waivers for the project.

Last winter, when Dwight Raymond had a whale watch boat haul a 125-footlong schooner into the Kennebunk River harbor, he announced plans to turn it into a 150-seat floating restaurant.

Named The Spirit of Massachusetts, the schooner reportedly was the last ship built at the Charleston Navel Shipyard. Launched in 1984, it has sailed from Canada to the Caribbean, and across the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of Africa, eventually settling down to life as an Ocean Classroom teaching vessel in Boothbay Harbor.

It now weighs anchor at Performance Marine, also owned by Raymond, whose other businesses on site include First Chance Whale Watch and Lobster Cruises, and the Pilot House restaurant.

Raymond initially circulated word that The Spirit of Massachusetts would be serving up spirits and sundry food items by July 4. However, his application was not filed with Kennebunk’s five-person site plan review board until May 13.

After reviewing the proposal June 18, and again July 16, the board declined to schedule a public hearing, while also taking a pass on various waivers requested by Raymond.

According to South Portland attorney Mike Vaillancourt, who represents Raymond’s Seadog Properties, the plan is to try and make the agenda for the review board’s Aug. 20 meeting.

However, on Monday, Chris Osterrieder, Kennebunk’s director of community development, planning and codes, said that docket is starting to fill up.

“I don’t know, unless we receive something in the next couple of days, I’m not sure we’re going to be able to make that,” he said, noting that the town had received no updates from Raymond since the June 16 session.

“Initially, it seemed he was trying to do this himself, but we’ve heard from his attorney on Friday that he may be hiring an engineering firm to represent him before the board from here on in,” Osterrieder said. “At this point I would say the application is pending.”

For his part, Raymond has expressed frustration with the review board’s requests for more information.

“I thought we addressed them all,” he said at the board’s July 16 meeting, referring to requests made at the June session. “We can’t just keep going from meeting to meeting to meeting and not get this thing going.”

Raymond complained that the board’s site plan checklist has allegedly “changed” between meetings — “ I keep getting new lists and new lists. This just doesn’t seem to end, and it’s not all my fault,” he said — but Town Planner Judy Bernstein discounted that claim.

“We’ve kept all the records, and I’ve used the same checklist each time,” she said at the July 16 meeting,

“Essentially everyone on the board said they need a full, complete package with the information we talked about tonight,” board Chairman Gary Dugas said.

“We don’t have final plans, we don’t have correct plans, we don’t even have a completed, accurate application,” board member Brenda Robinson agreed. “Applications need to be complete. We need to be good stewards for this board, and for the town.”

Currently, it seems highly unlikely Raymond will be able to open the ship’s galley, so to speak, anytime this season. However, his attorney left open the possibility that Raymond might just scuttle the proposal before next season rolls around.

“Our concern is, if we can’t get this rolling, the boat is literally going to sail out of the harbor and not come back, and I don’t say that lightly,” Vaillancourt said.

The river harbor is no longer regulated from the feds above Doane’s Wharf, while the shoreland zone in the area only extends 25 feet from the river’s edge. That means a floating restaurant would be reviewed and regulated largely under municipal building codes, not by state or federal environmental protection agencies, Osterrieder said.

“One thing that’s tricky is that he has not given up his Coast Guard certificate inspection. It’s likely that he would, but if he keeps that then he falls under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard, and things like our building code don’t apply to it,” Osterrieder said. “It he does not renew his certificate of inspection, it would need to be sprinkled, it would need to have bathrooms that are handicapped accessible, and it would need multiple means of egress.”

According to Osterrieder, the town’s stumbling block is not so much the retrofit of the ship itself — it’s an exciting project and one many people in town would probably support, he said — but the question of adequate parking for the facility within a tourist mecca already oversaturated with automobiles.

“The problem isn’t with what he wants to do, it is demonstrating that the existing parking has an adequate supply,” Osterrieder said, adding that in some cases, day and evening uses, such as the whale watch tours and the restaurants, can share spaces.

What exists on the ground for striped parking spaces would appear to meet town regulations for minimum parking spots, even when adding up to 150 new seats on a floating restaurant to 14 marina slips, 134 seats on the whale watch boat and 84 seats on Raymond’s scenic cruise tour boat and 80 seats at the Pilot House. But Osterrieder points out that the spaces, previously put down by Raymond and not altered by the town due to his grandfathered status, do not meet the town’s minimum dimension requirements for parking spaces.

“That doesn’t exactly work. What he says he has versus what he needs doesn’t quite line up yet,” he said. “Can it be made to work? Sure. The board hasn’t taken any action to deny his request. It’s just not approved his waiver requests and found that his application is not yet complete. Right now, he’s just trying to work out the kinks.”

In addition to parking, there are concerns over lighting in the parking lot, river fencing for increased foot traffic, and handicapped accessibility, all of which have yet to be adequately addressed, Osterrieder said.

“What he’s trying to do is not invest too much into this until he knows he’s got approval, but that’s pretty difficult for the site plan review board to say, sure, hey, this works,” Osterrieder said. “For instance, the ‘gangplank’ needs to be handicapped accessible at all times with a 10-foot tide. The board needs to see something on a plan that shows that, while currently he’s just saying he’ll make sure it’s handicapped accessible.”

Meanwhile, some of Raymond’s waiver requests “are not at all unreasonable,” Osterrieder said. For example, it may seem silly to some to require landscaping in an area that, as a parking lot, is a vast expanse of pavement. Still, justification of the waiver request is required.

“He’s just saying he’d like a waiver because that’s a hardship and the board is like, give me a little bit more to work with,” Osterrieder said.

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