BLUE HILL, Maine — As has happened in the past, a public hearing in Blue Hill about a proposed development exposed rifts in the community about which businesses are the right fit for this coastal town.
The matter before the Planning Board Monday was approval for a 4,000-square-foot retail development at 16 South St. The development by Chuck and Belinda Lawrence — who own the Tradewinds complex across the street — will hold three businesses, one of which is slated to be a Dunkin Donuts.
The plan was approved by the Planning Board after nearly two hours of public comments from dozens of residents who turned out to voice their concerns about the chain opening in Blue Hill.
Planners asked residents to keep comments on dietary choices or the desire to protect local businesses to themselves. They said it was not within their authority to consider Dunkin Donuts as a business, or to weigh in on the products sold there, but to rule on whether the building met the town’s logistic and environmental rules.
But, perhaps inevitably, the bulk of comments came from residents opposed ideologically to allowing what one called the “corporate onslaught” of South Street.
One resident, Julie Hurley, said she worried that the presence of a franchise restaurant like Dunkin Donuts would decrease property values and make Blue Hill less attractive to the tourists who are vital to the town’s summer economy.
“What we have is what other towns don’t have, which is the absence of this kind of commercialization,” she said. “I think people will find other places to go, where they don’t have these businesses that you can find just anywhere.”
Other residents asked whether the board could do anything to protect businesses in town that sold products similar to those at Dunkin Donuts. Planners told them such protectionary ordinances don’t exist.
Concerns the business would create an unwanted spike in traffic, excessive noise and light pollution also were raised. But planners were satisfied with the proposal, which includes plans to accommodate long drive-thru lines, speaker volume controls and capped light fixtures.
Chuck Lawrence has said his customers have indicated a demand for Dunkin Donuts in town, and one woman told planners she would happily frequent the restaurant.
“I think there are a lot of people who will enjoy it,” said Judy Browntree. “I’ll go through there.”
Planners explained to residents that what many wanted — a ruling based on a desire to keep national chains out of Blue Hill — was outside the scope of the board’s authority. They also said the town’s lack of zoning ordinances and a comprehensive plan leaves the board with little oversight of a development’s design or what kind of businesses can open in Blue Hill.
Planning board member Susan Walsh reminded residents that attempts in the past to establish such rules, which would give the planning board more authority over development, have been turned down by voters.
“People in Blue Hill have said they don’t want to be told what they can and can’t do with their property,” she said. “Well, if you want the freedom to do whatever you want with your own property, this is the price you pay.”
Planning board member Marcia Henderson defended the Lawrences for going “above and beyond” what is required by the town’s anemic rules. She said the developers were not obligated to design a building that fit Blue Hill’s village aesthetic, which the Lawrences did.
She said the town’s rules don’t even require that a developer disclose what business they plan to open, thus inviting residents’ criticism.
“What we have here is a guy from Blue Hill, who has showed us the building, who has a history of doing things right,” she said.
Planning board Chairman Peter D’Entremont said he hoped the motivation that brought residents by the dozens to this public forum would translate into enthusiasm for renewed attempts to pass a comprehensive plan, which would allow the board more authority.
“I hope interest in this project is an indication that there are many people here in Blue Hill ready for a serious discussion on this issue,” he said.
In the meantime, Chuck Lawrence hopes to break ground on the building that will house Dunkin Donuts within a week. If all goes according to plan, he said, the shop could be open by July.
As for the criticism from some residents, Lawrence said he’s confident he can build a development, including Dunkin Donuts, that’s a good fit for the sensibilities of Blue Hill, and he pledged to work with residents if there are any concerns about the restaurant’s operations once it opens.
“I love Blue HIll,” he said. “I wouldn’t do anything that would negatively affect this place.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.