GOULDSBORO, Maine — Local officials told the prospective buyer of the former Stinson Seafood sardine cannery Tuesday that the company would have to get site plan approval from the planning board in order to open a lobster buying and distribution center at the waterfront site.
The president of Live Lobster had publicly taken issue with the town’s position but said Wednesday that he is now OK with it and that he doesn’t foresee any problems with getting the needed approval from the town.
Live Lobster, a Chelsea, Mass.-based firm that is in the process of buying the shuttered plant from Bumble Bee Foods, is expected to close on the purchase on Friday, company President Antonio Bussone said.“I’m almost certain it will be on Friday,” Bussone said.
All the necessary pieces of completing the deal are in place, he said. It is just a matter of finding a time to line up all the authorized parties to sign on the dotted lines, he said.
Live Lobster plans to hire between 30 and 40 people and to start buying lobster and selling bait at the former cannery by late spring, when lobster fishing is expected to begin in earnest. The company also plans eventually to establish a lobster-processing operation at the site. It would be the first foray into lobster processing for the distributor, which has between 80 and 90 employees in Maine and Massachusetts.
Earlier this month, one potential hurdle to how soon Live Lobster would be able to begin operations in Gouldsboro appeared to be whether the company would have to get site plan approval from the town.
Live Lobster officials had said they didn’t think getting site plan approval was necessary because the use of the property was not changing and that they did not anticipate doing anything that Bumble Bee had not done. At a Feb. 3 selectmen’s meeting, Bussone told town officials he saw the site plan requirement as a deliberate “stumbling block” the town was placing in front of Live Lobster.
But on Tuesday, after town and company officials discussed the issue at a planning board meeting, everyone was in agreement and seemed unconcerned that site plan requirement would pose problems for the company.
Ray Jones, chairman of the town’s planning board, said Tuesday that Bumble Bee had not been required to get site plan approval because the ordinance mandating it had not gone into effect until 2002, after Bumble Bee had acquired the facility from Connors Bros. The ordinance did not change any of the allowable uses on the property. Jones said he doesn’t expect Live Lobster to have any problems in getting planning board approval for buying and processing lobster at the former sardine plant.
Everything they’re doing is well within the scope of what Bumble Bee did and what is allowed at the site, Jones said.
Live Lobster will be expected to file a site plan application with the town sometime after it closes on the property, Jones said.
Bussone said Wednesday that he does not see site plan approval from the town as a problem.
“After last night, I was extremely pleased,” he said. “It seems that things are turning for the best.”
Live Lobster has been working since last summer to acquire the plant from Bumble Bee, and is hoping to get the town to endorse a $200,000 federal Community Development Block Grant application that would help the company buy needed equipment for the plant.
Town officials, concerned about existing lobster buying businesses in town, have said they are willing to endorse the grant if the money goes toward lobster processing expenses rather than to subsidize the company’s lobster-buying operations. If this is guaranteed, and if Live Lobster can provide them with relevant financial information about its operations, town officials say they will support the grant application once the cannery sale is complete.
Thursday, Feb. 17, marks one year to the day that Bumble Bee announced it would close the cannery for good.
Karin McLean, who with her husband owns the local Mc’s Market, said Wednesday she will be happy to see activity resume at the old plant — and the sooner the better. Nearly 130 people worked at the sardine cannery when it closed last April, and many of them bought coffee, sandwiches and groceries at her business on their way to or from work, she said.
“We’re down this year,” she said of sales at her business. “It’s been a long winter.”