2015-11-20 / Letters

Proposed grist mill compromises waterway

To the editor:

I read with interest, the Nov. 6 letter from Mr. Bradbury and the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. I agree that no one should be fooled. All the facts and issues surrounding KCT’s proposed grist mill should be scrutinized because the Kennebunkport Planning Board’s application of the Land Use Ordinance is very extraordinary in this case. In addition, this project raises other issues that will affect Kennebunkport and its residents.

It wasn’t just the abutters who objected to this project. There were over 40 opposing letters submitted, including letters from Joyce Butler, author of the most recent history of the Kennebunks, and Rosalind Magnuson, former archivist for the Brick Store Museum. At the numerous board hearings and discussions, just as many people showed up to speak out against the trust applications.

In her letter, Butler points out that the preservation of the open space on the river is more important than attempting to recreate the grist mill. She notes that a replica amounts to change, not preservation.

Magnuson wrote “The Conservation Trust’s desire to recreate the Grist Mill smacks of commercialism in a neighborhood that is ill equipped to handle the additional traffic, noise and disruption that a new Mrist Mill would create. When did the desire to attract still more tourists to Kennebunkport take precedence over the people who live there?”

Further, she indicates that an industrial structure in the Village Residential Zone is a violation of the Land Use Ordinance, and using the pretext that the boathouse is a museum and the replica an accessory to it is misleading.

Under the ordinance, the proposed building site is governed by the restrictions of the Village Residential Zone, the Resource Protection Zone, and the Shoreland Zone.

I won’t go into all the arguments regarding application of the ordinance that the attorneys will make to the court in this appeal. Suffice it to say that there is very good reason to appeal the board’s decision. The trust tried twice to meet the ordinance requirements and did not get approval of this project as a mill or educational facility. They withdrew the project and came back a third time, calling the Clark Boathouse on the property a working “museum” and the proposed replica of the grist mill an “accessory” to the “museum.”

The Clark Boathouse has never been advertised, certified or approved as a museum. In the years it stood with a broken window and a few artifacts stored inside, two or three visits (allegedly) were made with schoolchildren.

Nonetheless, the board called it a museum that has been in use and allowed an “accessory” building to be built. What kind of precedent does this set?

I live on the Kennebunk River and the remnants of the old locks are on my shoreline. Under this decision, I can now call my house a museum (I’ve had lots of visitors) and build an accessory museum building at the river’s edge.

Construction of a dam blocking the Mill Pond tidal flow.

To make a “working” mill, the trust plans to dam the Mill Pond, an estuary that is important to the Kennebunk river and the fisheries offshore. They cite a conditional dam permit from the Maine DEP. However, it is not the DEP’s job to stop dams from being built. No dams have been constructed in Maine since 1986 and many have been removed.

The trust would have you believe that this dam is fine because the Mill Pond won’t be dammed 24 hours a day. But they plan to keep the Mill Pond flooded, holding high tide during daylight hours of its most ecologically productive days of the year. Estuaries like the Mill Pond are essential suppliers of nutrients and microorganisms for the oceans. Fish stocks depend on such flows and also come into the estuaries to spawn.

We and other animals depend on the oxygen produced by the microorganisms that live off the nutrients that flow into the oceans. Birds depend on the low waters for food. The Mill Pond is a large body of water of consequence to the ecology of this area and impeding the tidal flow will have detrimental effects.

Bradbury says the new construction will be a restoration because they use old boards and designs. No, it is not a restoration; it is a replica. And according to the rules of preservation (Magnuson letter, 2015), no historical building should be constructed that confuses people regarding the originality of the building. This is not preservation; just a tourist attraction.

When the trust bought this site, they had help from the community, including gifts of money from many of the people in this quiet residential neighborhood.

The oldest and second oldest house in Kennebunkport are still standing and occupied here, and many of the earliest town residents buried here as well. The site is located at the end of a short, dead end street.

The trust promised the residents that the land would remain as a park with the open view of the river, only to be used by kayakers and no parking allowed. Now, they have turned around and want to add a tourist attraction with tours and parking. This is a promise broken to the very people who supported and believed the trust. What will they do next if they feel no need to honor their promises to the people of Kennebunkport?

Bradbury implies that very few interested people will stop in as they do to the historical society or the Brick Store Museum. But many of the tour buses we see in town come from cruise ships and out-of-state tours.

Anyone who has taken a cruise knows that the tour companies look for tourist attractions to sell their additional bus trips. This replica will be sold as a stop in Kennebunkport and there will be throngs of tourists back and forth from Dock Square and the parking lot through a residential area, extending the business district into this neighborhood.

I urge everyone in Kennebunkport to view the videos of the parties before the Planning Board. Be sure to note the rudeness shown by the chairman – he regularly interrupts the abutters while smiling and agreeing with the trust. (After all, he is a member of the trust). Note that he refuses to allow the earlier letters of protest to trust’s first and second applications into the third application, but the board constantly refers to and takes into consideration past applications when making their decision.

I have observed planning boards in other towns where a group proposes something “wonderful” for the community even though its placement is proposed in a residential area. Such attractions are normally rejected as inappropriate for the residential area.

In all these instances, I never saw the bias in board members that I observed in this situation. And I have never encountered such misinterpretation of an ordinance. Is this how citizens will be treated in the future?

The trust is an asset to the community and has done some wonderful things for the town. However, their goals seem to be changing. Instead of preserving open space and promoting conservation, they seem to be interested in replicating history of a certain period.

How will everyone react to the “generous” donor who paid for all this when he wants more. Are houses going to be required to conform to appearance standards so that he can have his nostalgia? Everyone who lives in Kennebunkport should take this issue seriously. If you value the Land Use Ordinance and your tidal estuaries in any way, you should support this appeal.

Nina L. Pearlmutter

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