BLUE HILL, Maine — The plan to open a Dunkin’ Donuts on South Street in Blue Hill has some residents worried about the future of the town, and the chairman of the Planning Board says it may be the catalyst for a re-examination of the town’s commercial development ordinances.
Chuck and Belinda Lawrence, who own the Tradewinds Market on South Street, were before the Planning Board Monday with an application for a 4,000-square-foot development across the street, which would house Dunkin’ Donuts and two other yet-unnamed tenants.
The board unanimously voted to accept the application and set a public hearing for Feb. 11.
The meeting was attended by about 20 people, most of whom were residents concerned about the proposal to bring the doughnut chain to town. But the board heard comments from only one resident — Bob Marville, who sold the 2-acre lot at 16 South Street to the Lawrences in 2009.
Marville said he’s concerned the development will be just the first of many that will end with South Street looking like Ellsworth’s main corridor of franchise restaurants, malls and outlets, High Street.
“I would not have sold him this property if I had any idea that it would end this way,” he said. “In my view, within six or eight years, South Street will look like High Street. If that’s what you want, so be it.”
Marville also said he feared the development wouldn’t fit in with the town’s village aesthetic, and would put the kibosh on local bakers’ efforts to sell products similar to those offered at Dunkin’ Donuts.
“They’d be eaten alive by this outfit,” Marville said. “Not because this business is bad, but because they’re good. That destroys the local economy.”
Lawrence countered, saying the MacDonalds, who will own the franchise, are local people who keep their money in the communities they serve. He also said the building is being designed to fit in with Blue Hill, not to stick out. For example, he said, there will be no large, neon sign for Dunkin’ Donuts.
Lawrence also said that a business being a franchise doesn’t make it bad. His supermarket, Tradewinds, is an independently owned Hannaford franchise, he said, but you’d be hard pressed to tell. He said he has no intention of changing Blue Hill.
“I brought in a national chain, one called Hannaford Brothers, and I think I managed that very well,” he said. “We take care of the community, and I don’t think of myself as Hannaford.”
Residents’ concern about development, especially on South Street, goes all the way back to 1997, when a hotly protested plan to build a Rite-Aid was at the center of a debate about the future of Blue Hill.
Peter D’Entremon, chairman of the Planning Board, said Marville likely spoke for many other residents who will undoubtedly turn up for the public hearing in February, and admitted that he shared the concern about development on South Street.
D’Entremon also said he hoped the development will spur an assessment of the town’s ordinances and a conversation about what Blue Hill wants to be in the future.
“The issues raised here are issues that have been raised here with the Planning Board many times,” he said. “I want more wide-ranging, future discussions about the future of South Street, and perhaps this will be the catalyst for that.”
To that end, D’Entremon said that a moratorium may be necessary, to give the town the time it needs to assess and revise its development ordinances. The moratorium would temporarily prohibit new development, but would not apply to applications already received, such as the Lawrences’.
The board accepted Lawrence’s application, but did request more information on a few features of the plan. Namely, they want more information on signage, lighting and landscaping. They also said they need more information about how delivery trucks will access the building, and when.
The public forum on the Dunkin’ Donuts proposal will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, at the Blue Hill Town Hall.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.