PHIPPSBURG, Maine — More than six hours of deliberations by Phippsburg selectmen and the planning board ended at 12:10 a.m. Friday with a 6-1 approval of a controversial new business license for the Popham Beach Club.
After hours of testimony from residents opposing the permit, the joint board placed four conditions on owner Bruce Poliquin’s application to switch the summertime beach club from a members-only facility to one that can host catered functions year round.
Poliquin, of Georgetown, who is the state treasurer, said he sought the new permit to improve cash flow at the club, which since being built four years ago has managed to sell only eight memberships.
The uprising against the application was fierce, especially from neighbors of the beach club who argued that the new use would disturb the area’s tranquility, reduce nearby property values, create hazards related to increased traffic and exacerbate an already overtaxed parking situation in the Popham area. Many said that Poliquin’s request was carried out in bad faith, especially given the more than year-long process that resulted in the town’s issuance of his original building and business permits in 2006.
Terry Wyman, co-owner of Ocean View Park Campground, which sits adjacent to the beach club, argued strenuously against the permit.
“This is a very emotional issue for me,” he said. “Why should everyone else in Popham suffer because of this failed business venture?”
Wyman said the beach club’s proximity to his home and campground already has decreased his property value and that Poliquin has not followed through on conditions set by the town in the 2006 permit. Among his chief complaints was a buffer of vegetation and fencing that he said is nothing like what was previously approved. Wyman said the edge of the club’s parking area falls about 20 feet from his bedroom window.
“The effort made by Mr. Poliquin is not even close to what he promised,” said Wyman. “We, the Wymans, do not consider Mr. Poliquin a good neighbor.”
Wyman left the meeting as the public comment period was over and the joint board was beginning deliberations. Asked outside the Town Hall why, he said he was tired from a long day and could foresee the decision.
“At this point it’s clear that I have no reason to be optimistic,” he told the Bangor Daily News.
Poliquin disagreed and listed several ways he has tried to appease abutters, including offering them underground utility hook-ups, installing sewer and water systems with more capacity than was required and responding quickly to two complaints about construction noise and overhead light spillage.
“I think I have a history of being a good neighbor in that area,” said Poliquin. “I think I’ve done a good job of abiding by the permit we have now.”
But the crowd was stacked against him. Of the 35 people who attended the meeting, only one or two spoke in favor of the expansion — not counting the planning board and selectmen. Board of Selectmen Chairman Lawrence Pye cast the only vote against the permit in the end.
“I just don’t think it’s a good fit for that area,” he said.
The conditions placed on the new business permit were as follows:
— That functions at the club be limited to 110 people, including staff, plus another 40 private members for a total of 150.
— That the state fire marshal’s office inspect the building to set an appropriate occupancy rate before any functions are booked.
— That anyone serving alcohol be properly licensed. The Popham Beach Club does not have its own liquor license but caterers potentially could bring in bartenders.
— That Poliquin set the vegetative buffer zones consistent with the requirements of his original building permit. Poliquin said many of the shrubs and trees he originally planted have died, but vowed to correct the problem in the spring.