2015-11-13 / Front Page

Lawsuit puts grist mill on hold

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — Plans to rebuild the Perkins Grist Mill will have to wait until resolution of a lawsuit filed by abutters to stop the project.

The original mill, built in 1749, was in operation until the 1930s. It later became a restaurant and its life ended at the end of an arson’s match in 1994. The Kennebunk Conservation Trust purchased the 1.7-acre lot, which includes the Clem Clark Boathouse, in 2006 for $600,000. In 2010, it began submitting applications to rebuild the mill to its original specifications as a means to revive the town’s history as a working waterfront.

According to KCT Executive Director Tom Bradbury, once rebuilt the mill would become the only working grist mill powered by tidal action in all of North American, creating a tangible link to the past for tourists and schoolchildren alike. The concept is to rebuild the mill from period plans, using period parts and materials.

After being turned down on its original application because construction was not allowed in the tidal area, KCT came back with plans to make it an education center. That also failed to pass muster. The application finally approved by the planning board in September cuts out the learning commons, reducing the scope of the project from nearly 2,500 square feet down to 801 – roughly the footprint of the original mill.

In order to satisfy at local and state limitations in the waterfront and resource protection zones, the newest application claims the mill as an “accessory building” to the Clem Clark Boathouse. A museum is a permitted use with planning board exceptions in Kennebunkport’s Village Residential zoning district, and the mill would be allowed as an “accessory use.”

But therein lies the rub. Attorney John Bannon of the Portland law firm Murray Plumb & Murray represents several abutters and near neighbors of the proposed grist mill.

He has argued that permits granted to KCT when it applied to open the boathouse make no mention of it being a museum. However, town attorney Amy Tchao has advised the planning board that while it’s true the boathouse was not specifally permitted as a museum, it was granted an occupancy permit and has hosted field trips from local schools to see the shipbuilding tools on display there two or three times per year ever since.

On Oct. 14, Bannon filed suit in York County Superior Court to overturn approval of the mill, calling the planning board’s application of the town’s land use ordinance “arbitrary, capricious, legally erroneous, and unsupported by the evidence in the record.”

But that evidence is extensive and already Bannon has filed for an extension, allowing him time to produce the required transcripts of the applicable planning board sessions.

“That will be a document several inches thick,” Bannon said on Monday.

The plaintiffs include Jon Eagleson and Susan Graham, Susan Graesser, Lora McGrath, and Gretchen and Peter Warren. That group recently published an ad in several local newspapers, claiming that, in addition to zoning issues, they see moral and issues at play.

“The Trust’s effort to build on property they hold in conservation represents a breach of trust with those who believed that this land would be preserved as open space forever,” the ad reads.

On Monday, Susan Graham acknowledged the ad was intended to build public support for her group’s cause, but declined further comment, saying Bannon had been authorized to speak on their behalf.

“This is simply something that is not allowed in the resource protection zone,” Bannon said on Monday.

Both Tchao and Bannon say the appeal process can take several months. Once each side has filed an initial brief, and Bannon has had time to respond, it will at least be January, they agree. From there, the process could drag out as long as six to nine months, and depending how the court rules, subsequent appeals may be in play.

On Monday Bradbury says he’s disappointed by the appeal, although he said it was not entirely unexpected.

“We’ve always tried to do the best we can. We’ve made a number of changes with respect to the concerns voiced by the neighbors,” he said. “We conceded as much as we possibly can.”

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