2015-11-06 / Letters

Don’t be fooled

To the editor:

It was with some interest that we saw the full page add in the Kennebunk Post asking people to donate funds to help pay for a lawsuit against the town of Kennebunkport and the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, challenging a recent Planning Board decision.

That 4-1 decision would allow the trust to reconstruct the original pre-industrial mill that was located on that site from 1749 until its tragic loss by arson in 1994. Perhaps no application in our community’s history was more scrutinized than this one. The members of the board were diligent in their efforts, and topics involving traffic, parking, noise, dust, setbacks, lot coverage, environmental impact, scenic views, public access and more were fully explored.

In the end, after extensive presentations of evidence by both sides, the Planning Board voted correctly that the approximately 801-square-foot building did conform to the town’s zoning laws and that all requirements had been met.

Throughout this process there has been a lot of talk about change and it’s understandable that people are uncomfortable with that. Most change involves removing something we are familiar with and replacing it with something new and different. This case is different.

We are trying to restore an iconic structure that was lost to us. It’s the same thing we did on Goat Island, and we feel that the Grist Mill gives to Dock Square the same historic significance and ties to our past that the lighthouse provides to Cape Porpoise.

We understand that a healthy town is always growing and evolving, but the best towns also hold on to the places that are dear in the hearts of its residents. We’ve been protecting just such places since our beginning.

In most cases that protection has involved our islands, beach, open spaces, scenic vistas, and those places that maintain an ever shrinking public access to our resources. But in some cases that also includes buildings. Imagine the look of Cape Porpoise harbor had the lighthouse been removed, as was once an option.

Our opponents enjoy using the talking point that we are building “nothing but a cheap replica.”

We can assure you that there is nothing about this process that is cheap. Neither will the finished building have the feel of a replica. We are using period materials, timbers and boards that were milled in the mid-18th century. The National Historic Register has provided us with the mill’s full design.

We have many photos to work with and have the ability to call upon the memories of those who knew it. We are able to locate the same equipment. For anyone visiting the mill it will be the same experience as that which was lost. To anyone who wasn’t here in 1994, it will be the only building they’ve known or will grow up with. They will have the same feelings for this structure that we did for the original mill. People want to see, feel, touch and experience the past, especially our children. That’s how they learn.

That’s how they come to understand. It may seem far-fetched to put our little mill in the same category as Mount Vernon or Plymouth Plantation, two of our nation’s leading historic places, and both having replacement mills. And yet, we have been asking advice from both of the millers in those places. And our “replica” will boast a distinction that even the original mill didn’t have.

Ours will be the only working tidal mill in North America. Imagine that and what a tribute it could be to our community. We have been offered encouragement and the hopes for success from tidal mill historians and enthusiasts from around the world. Of course replacing it makes sense. It will be an important part of our “Trust in Our Children” programs.

This past summer, a group of tall ships came to Portland. It was the cause for great excitement and tens of thousands tried to claim their spot early to witness the spectacle of those ships under sail. Those weren’t original 18th-century ships. They were replicas. But that fact was of little consequence to those who attended and witnessed the beauty and majesty of it all.

People had been able to see for themselves what it must have been like in the age of sail, just as we will be able to see a slice of what life in Kennebunkport was like at that time, and no interpretive sign can replace the real thing.

That’s not to infer that we expect tens of thousands of people to throng to the Grist Mill. We expect that interested people will stop in as they do at the Kennebunkport Historical Society or Brick Store Museum. Most will already be in the town and this will be a stop along their way as they walk from the existing public parking lot to Dock Square.

We suspect that some of the visitors to the site will be tourists and we’re fine with that. Ours has been an economy based on tourism for over a century.

The Grist Mill park is not being lost. Quite the contrary, it is being made more beautiful and more historic. The launching of kayaks and canoes and other forms of passive recreation will continue on as always. In addition, important pieces of our town’s heritage will be celebrated.

Throughout this long process the Trust has attempted to address our opponent’s concerns at every point possible and have willingly agreed to many conditions.

On-site parking will be limited to only 10 cars. Tour buses are not allowed on the grounds. The Heritage Center and Museum can only be open five days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May through October.

Our limited park lighting will be shut off by 6 p.m. Any functions can take place just within those hours. No weddings or wedding rehearsals will take place. No amplified music will be allowed, inside or out of the building.

The park itself is only open during daylight hours. Ultimately, some said that there were no conditions or compromises that they would agree to, thus the appeal that they are now asking others to pay for.

As for the trust, funds for the building and endowment of this special place have come from a special gift. That has allowed us to carry on the traditional missions of the trust as always. We continue to protect special places for the citizens and visitors to Kennebunkport, and provide them with special learning opportunities.

We continue to protect the beauty and character of our community. We continue to work so that no one will be shut out of those unique places that make our town loved by so many. We continue to grant public access to all of our properties. Our volunteers work tirelessly to monitor campsites and groom trails. All are open, all are respected and all who visit the properties are expected to treat both the property and the people that surround it with an equal respect.

We have found that the vast majority of people are grateful for what has been set aside for them, for our children and for those who will someday come to love this special place as we now do. We firmly believe that the building of the Grist Mill adds to the beauty and character of our community, that it can be run safely and quietly without adversely affecting the neighborhood, and that it has met every requirement.

Don’t be fooled. This is a great thing for our community! We thank you for your support.

Tom Bradbury and the Kennebunkport
Conservation Trust Board of Directors

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