OGUNQUIT, Maine — When a larger than usual number of people attended the Oct. 15 Select Board meeting, Town Manager Tom Fortier knew exactly why they were there: a proposal to put a new Mexican restaurant, El Rodeo, at 355 Main St.
“A lot of you are concerned about a new restaurant that might be coming to town,” Fortier told the crowd. “I just want to caution everybody that it’s not on the agenda … we’re not going to take any action tonight.”
El Rodeo, a family-owned chain from Pennsylvania, is also putting in a restaurant in Newington, N.H. this year. They also have a restaurant in South Portland.
Fortier said despite public concerns, and taking into account the town ordinance prohibiting formula restaurants, the town’s code enforcement officer and attorney had determined that the proposed restaurant is not a formula restaurant.
“Now there are many people in the audience who don’t agree with that and there are members of the Select Board that don’t agree with that,” Fortier said, “so we’re going to have an issue on our hands.”
The restaurant had applied for a business license and should have inspections completed by next week, Fortier said.
“I would recommend to the Select Board and the public that we have a special meeting next week to address this,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to go so far down the line and then tell them they can’t open.”
The Select Board agreed to hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, to discuss this topic.
Next, under public input, Mary Breen spoke on the background of the Formula Restaurant Ordinance now in place and how hard she and others had worked on it in 2005.
“It was a community event,” she said. “A grassroots organization to present to the voters … that we didn’t have an ordinance in place.”
Breen emphasised their work “to keep the character of this special little town” and went on to add that “their [the restaurant's] own website says they are a chain. By definition a formula restaurant is a chain.”
“We created a campaign to keep these type of places out of Ogunquit,” she said. “Seventy-two percent of your voters approved of that and in 2006 it became law. In my opinion, and hopefully yours, too, it’s your duty to uphold that law and to make sure the floodgates don’t open.
Barbara Treen later spoke on the topic, saying, “It is such a vital issue — for many people who make the decisions it’s their job but this is our home.”
Selectman Chris Jarochym added that after he received inquiries from residents on this subject he did his own research, finding they had eight locations in Pennsylvania, five in North Carolina, five in Virginia, two in Portland and two in New Hampshire, prompting him to remark “from what I’ve seen, if it looks like a duck, smells like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
In other business, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Karen Arel informed the board of the Chamber’s intent to host “The Great Race” on June 21, 2014. Approximately 100 antique cars, each with a team of two to three drivers, will start the race from Ogunquit Beach at 8 a.m. that Saturday morning and head south on their way to Florida. Arel called this a family-friendly event with many of the teams made up of fathers, sons and other family members.
Selectman Bob Winn also announced a need for volunteers to work with professionals and experts in the formation of a task force to address beach erosion.