2015-11-06 / Community

Pilot House license put on hold for now

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Continued operation of the Pilot House restaurant in Kennebunk’s Lower Village is dependent on a consent agreement selectmen are scheduled to vote on at their Tuesday, Nov. 10, meeting.

Part of the problem is the restaurant – which promotes its status within the local tourist mecca as the place “where locals eat” – is not supposed to exist at all.

In April 2012, Kennebunk’s site plan review board approved a new concept for the property just off Western Avenue, which joined it to an abutting lot. That lot houses Performance Marine. Dwight Raymond is the principle of both businesses, located at 2 and 4 Harbor Lane, owned legally by Sealand Properties LLC and Sea Dog Properties LLC, respectively.

At the time, Raymond said his plan was to tear down the Pilot House in order to increase parking and expand the marina business. A demolition permit was issued to that effect on April 27, 2012.

But the building never came down and Raymond recently applied for a new liquor license, as well as an updated special amusement permit, creating in the process a legal snag.

According to Code Enforcement Officer Paul Demers, the licenses require that the restaurant be in compliance with local zoning ordinances. But it’s not, because it does not have an approved site plan. Instead, the 2012 plan combines both lots as home to a new, larger marina.

“He started that process by tearing up his parking lot and paving a large portion of it,” Demers told selectmen at their Oct. 27 meeting. “He requested a permit for demo of the pilot house, but that permit has expired and the Pilot House is still here, obviously, if he’s asking for his liquor license.

“That leaves an inconsistency in the site plan and we just need to find a way to help him work through that,” Demers said. “We’ve been doing that pretty diligently.”

That diligence includes creation of a consent agreement, drafted by Town Attorney William Dale.

If approved by selectmen on Nov. 10, and signed by Raymond and his attorney, the agreement would let the Pilot House remain open, with new licenses, despite the fact it’s no longer supposed to be there.

According to a draft of the agreement, Raymond would have until 60 days after it’s signed to submit a new site plan for review and approval. Because obtaining a municipal blessing can be a process, Raymond would have 210 days to gain final approval of that plan, starting from when he signed the consent agreement.

“The timing of this correction is not one we can quantify as review would require plan submissions and hearings with the appropriate review authority,” Demers wrote in an Oct. 13 memo to selectmen.

Still, the deal would allow the restaurant to run as is until early June 2016. However, if Raymond has not obtained approval of a new site plan by that time, “the town shall pursue all appropriate enforcement action,” the draft agreement says, leaving the door open to future lawsuits.

That said, the draft consent agreement does not care whether Raymond submits a plan that calls for continued operation of the Pilot House, adherence to the existing marina-only concept or something else entirely. Its only hang-up is that what exists on paper match what is actually occurring on the ground.

However, if the new goal is to keep the doors open at the Pilot House, there are hurdles to cross there as well.

“The building contains numerous safety violations that must be corrected,” Demers wrote in an Oct. 13 memo to selectmen.

In an Oct. 6 email, Lt. Jay Byron of the Kennebunk Fire Department reported on an inspection of the Pilot House performed earlier that day. Among the issues he noted were a cluttered furnace room, nonfunctioning exit signs, unsecured carbon dioxide tanks, a sagging storage room floor and the need for a second bollard for the building’s propane tanks.

The furnace room and propane tank problems were fixed “pretty quickly” Demers told selectmen on Oct. 27.

However, cleaning out the furnace room was only a short-term solution, Byron wrote.

“We need to find out long-term plans,” he said in his email to Fire Chief Jeffrey Rowe and Town Clerk Merton Brown. “If they are going to keep it long term, they will need to do a lot of work to the furnace room. Currently, it is just wooden walls, no sheet rock on either side, and the room is pretty small, so getting adequate ventilation is a problem.”

Meanwhile, the new plan could include an entirely new restaurant, one unique within Lower Village and not entirely common elsewhere in Maine.

Last winter, Raymond announced plans to turn The Spirit of Massachusetts, a schooner he’s since docked at his marina, into a 150-seat floating restaurant. In July, the Kennebunk Site Plan Review Board deemed Raymond’s application incomplete and declined to send it to a public hearing.

Although Raymond’s attorney, Michael Vaillancourt of the South Portland firm of Ainsworth Thelin & Raftice, said at the time an updated plan would be submitted before the board’s August session, no new information was ever submitted, according to Community Development Director and Town Engineer Chris Osterrieder.

Neither Raymond nor Vaillancourt could be reached Monday for comment regarding the status of that project.

Still, it appears the Pilot House may not give way to a floating restaurant as soon as initially expected.

In his email, Byron reported being told by Raymond that he planned to keep the Pilot House open.

“He said they were looking at trying to [get] a couple more years out of the building,” Byron wrote.

Those years may or may not include continued use as a restaurant, just as the new site plan may or may not move the kitchen to the dockside schooner. But whatever the plan is, once the consent agreement is signed, the clock will start ticking on a mandate that Raymond set it in stone by putting it down on paper.

“Any new uses that are being contemplated would need to be reviewed as part of the site plan review application that is being required as a component of the consent agreement,” Osterrieder wrote in a Nov. 1 email. “They indicated that as of this morning they are inclined to enter into the agreement.”

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