Camden debates whether Route 1 bed-and-breakfasts should be allowed to serve dinners

Posted July 02, 2014, at 9:21 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — A request by a bed-and-breakfast owner to serve dinners to her guests has created a food fight in Camden.

The Camden Planning Board voted 4-1 on Wednesday evening to pass the proposed ordinance change to the Select Board, which also will hold a public hearing and decide whether to pass the proposal on to residents at a referendum.

More than 50 people turned out for the public hearing before the planning board on whether the town’s zoning ordinance should be amended to allow inns, abutting High Street that also are within 500 feet of a zone that allows restaurants, to serve meals to overnight guests only.

The issue has generated considerable debate during the past few months. In May, the planning board rejected the request on a 2-2 vote. The board decided to consider the matter again when all five members were present.

The proposal was put forth by Kristen Bifulco, who owns the Windward House bed-and-breakfast at 6 High St. High Street is the name of Route 1 north of downtown Camden. The Windward House is a 6,400-square-foot 1854-built Greek Revival house.

Bifulco said her proposal would generate more business for Camden by bringing more people into the community. She said other inns are allowed to serve dinners, but because she is in the traditional village zone, she is not.

The speakers were split at the public hearing. Of about 30 people who spoke, nearly two-thirds were in opposition.

Peter Kalajian said the prohibition for bed-and-breakfasts on High Street was indefensible. He said the change would have no impact on the neighborhood.

Jonathan Carlson said he supported the change.

“I don’t see how this is going to open the door to TGI Fridays,” Carlson said.

Marie Collins said the town needs to support businesses that want to be creative.

Elizabeth O’Connor, who operates Abigail’s Inn at neighboring 8 High St., said she supports the change. She said on snowy days for example, when restaurants in town are closed, she is not allowed to offer dinner meals to guests.

Other residents, however, said the change would harm the residential neighborhood on High Street.

Former Select Board member Deborah Dodge urged board members not to recommend the change to the Select Board.

“Don’t let your empathy for one business owner or fear of being called anti-business allow you to chip away at zoning that is specifically there to protect the neighborhood,” Dodge said.

Elizabeth Perry of High Street said she loves her residential neighborhood and that while the change may seem small, it could result in unintended consequences.

“This is how neighborhoods become commercial,” Perry said.

Neale Sweet said this issue was not a referendum on small businesses but instead a debate on whether zoning ordinances would be maintained. He said the change would increase commercial activity in the residential neighborhood.

Ann Sziklas of High Street said the proposal was spot zoning, and it would make the stretch of road more like Elm Street, which is the commercial stretch on the other end of Route 1.

Other lodging owners who operate in commercial zones of the town spoke against the change, saying that they bought in a zone where they could offer dinners. They said that it was not fair to allow Bifulco to serve dinners when she knew it was not allowed when she purchased the property.

Jim Ostrowski of the Blackberry Inn said this would change the playing field.

“Once you say yes to them, how do you say no to anyone else?” Ostrowski said.

Nancy Hughes voiced support for the change. She said restaurants that have gone out of business in Camden have likely closed because of bad food or high prices, not because of competition from a bed-and-breakfast serving dinner.

“Competition is what makes the world go round,” Hughes said.

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