CAMDEN, Maine — Residents here will decide by ballot next month if they want to temporarily halt “formula” businesses — such as Dunkin’ Donuts — from opening in the downtown business district.
The Select Board voted unanimously at Tuesday night’s regular meeting to let voters determine in June the fate of a proposed 180-day moratorium on issuing permits to such businesses. The moratorium would be retroactive to April 10, which is before a proposal for a Dunkin’ Donuts on Elm Street received its permits.
“I just hope people turn out and vote their conscience. It’s about their town,” said Select Board member John French, who said he disagreed with the moratorium. “It’s not a topless coffee shop, like they have in Vassalboro, and it’s not an X-rated video store. I wouldn’t support anything like that. But I would support a legitimate business that would come in and create jobs for the community.”
A date for the vote has not been set, but it should happen during the week of June 22-26, according to Town Manager Roberta Smith. A public hearing will be held before the vote, and likely will take place in the Camden Opera House.
The wave of opposition to such businesses was triggered when Connecticut developer Michael Ouimet and his Owls Head business partner signed a letter of intent in April to open a Dunkin’ Donuts, for which they later received permits from the town. Many people signed a petition to request the moratorium, including Joshua Moore of Camden.
Moore, who submitted the formal request for the moratorium to the Select Board, said the town’s unique brand would be threatened if formula businesses set up shop. He defined those in the moratorium as having a standardized array of services or merchandise, trademark, logo, symbol, decor, architecture or uniform, and which are “substantially identical” to more than 20 other businesses.
“Camden has a very distinct identity,” Moore said. “It is literally one that is world-famous … and unlike any other in the world. That means we should be careful about how we move forward.”
If the moratorium is passed by voters, it would affect the area essentially between the library and the Stop ‘n’ Go convenience store and gas station, Moore said. The Select Board could approve a 180-day extension when the moratorium expires.
While the Select Board’s vote was unanimous, not all members were in agreement with the moratorium’s goals.
“When you see a downtown building for sale for a long period of time, it gives the impression to visitors that our business district is in trouble,” Sharon Gilbert said after the meeting. “We currently see vacant storefronts on Main Street, Elm Street and Bayview Street, and we all would like to see them filled again. We have lost businesses to Rockland and Belfast. Why? Let’s try to be more business-friendly.”
Select Board member Anita Brosius-Scott, on the other hand, was in favor of taking a development break so that the town could get its comprehensive plan and its ordinances to align.
“There’s been so much public interest in this issue, it really is essential that the public have a say. This is a major public outcry,” she said. “If we compromise the uniqueness of our town, we are compromising our brand.”