Maine treasurer’s plans for his failing beach club anger Phippsburg neighbors

Bruce Poliquin
Bruce Poliquin
Posted Dec. 06, 2011, at 6:50 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 07, 2011, at 9:45 a.m.

PHIPPSBURG, Maine — State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin has angered some Phippsburg landowners with a request to the town to expand his permit to run the Popham Beach Club, though the planning board chairwoman said Poliquin’s request is well within what is allowed under the town’s ordinances.

Poliquin, who lives in nearby Georgetown and was a candidate in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary, seeks to rent out the Popham Beach Club for functions and to make it available year-round and later into the evening, both of which were not among the conditions he requested when he was granted a new business permit in April 2006, according to Planning Board Chairwoman Marie Varian.

The text of Poliquin’s application is brief:

“To improve the Beach Club’s cash flow during this difficult economy, I respectfully request an additional new business permit allowing year-round catered functions including but not limited to corporate meetings, family-church-civic gatherings and health retreats,” wrote Poliquin in his one-page application, which was filed on Nov. 8. “Excluding the above, all conditions and other provisions of the original new business permits approved on April 19, 2006 shall apply.”

That’s the entire wording of Poliquin’s application. Reached by cell phone Tuesday afternoon by the Bangor Daily News through a number he listed on his application, Poliquin said he was boarding a plane and couldn’t talk. Asked if he would comment when the plane landed, Poliquin declined and said, “I will only discuss official business.”

Popham Beach Club is located on less than 2 acres at 845 Popham Road, less than a mile from Popham Beach State Park.

As of Tuesday, the town had received nine letters in opposition to Poliquin’s request before a public hearing on the issue scheduled for Thursday evening. Richard Nichols of Main Road urged the Board of Selectmen and planning board to “vote against any expansion of business for the Popham Beach Club.”

“The original permit to allow operation of the club was issued with a set of restrictions that both allowed the club to operate within their business plan and adequately protected the abutters,” wrote Nichols. “To allow an expanded use of the club now would overwhelm these restrictions and cause harm to the abuttors.”

Rod Jermain, who owns property near Popham Beach, said Poliquin’s proposed new uses for his property are vastly different from those under which he received his original business permit.

“The present permit was structured to limit the negative impact on the area and now Mr. Poliquin apparently decided those restrictions don’t suit him,” wrote Jermain. “The phrase in his request ‘allowing year-round catered functions including but not limited to …’ seems very open-ended and has a lot of potentially unseen ramifications that would negatively affect his neighbors and the people of Phippsburg and Popham Beach.”

Among the concerns cited by Jermain were the stress the additional uses at the beach club would have on the potable water table and potential dangers that additional traffic would create, especially if motorists had been drinking. Alcohol is allowed at the club if guests bring it in, but the club does not serve it and is not proposing to, according to planning board minutes from a Nov. 15 meeting.

Charles, Stephen and Richard Norris, who own a property at 74 Hunnewell Ave., cited many of the same arguments and added that “noisy rental social functions” likely would devalue nearby real estate. They also were concerned about the town setting a bad precedent if it approves Poliquin’s application.

Varian said according to her reading of Poliquin’s application, he is not seeking to raise the limit of people who can be at the club at any given time, which stands at 150 guests.

“He’s not asking for huge functions by the sound of it but we’ll find out more when we get into [Thursday’s] hearing,” said Varian. “He didn’t intend to be open in the off-season and now he would like to be.”

Varian said she has received one letter in support of Poliquin’s application, which she will present to the public during Thursday’s hearing.

Some of the letter writers said they were concerned about the impact new uses at the beach club would have on the adjacent Ocean View Park Campground and another residences. Those landowners could not be reached for comment by press time.

According to Varian, Poliquin’s original application to build Popham Beach Club was controversial on many fronts, including a request by Poliquin for a relaxed buffer between his property and abutters. Varian said Poliquin was granted those requests, which was allowed by the town’s ordinances. She said that controversy has no bearing on Poliquin’s latest application.

“None of that stuff will be coming back up,” she said.

Varian said she expects a large crowd at Thursday’s meeting and that everyone who wishes will have a chance to speak unless comments become overly redundant. No matter how many people oppose Poliquin’s application, Varian said the planning board and selectmen are bound by ordinance and state law to grant allowable permits — which she said appeared to be the case in Poliquin’s application. As for the clause in Poliquin’s application that reads “including, but not limited to,” Varian said the board likely would develop a list of specific conditions if it grants the new business permit.

“We can’t give a permit or deny a permit because someone likes it or doesn’t like it,” she said. “We have to go by the book, and we do.”

Thursday’s public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Phippsburg Town Hall. Varian said it’s possible the boards will deliberate and render a decision on the application after the public comment session.

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