KENNEBUNK, Maine — Residents on Monday blasted a proposed contract zone that would allow an 80-room boutique hotel in Lower Village.
More than 75 community members — including members of the Kennebunk and Kennebunkport boards of selectmen, town officials, and many Lower Village residents — filled the meeting room at Kennebunk Town Hall Monday night for the proposal’s first time before the Planning Board.
The Planning Board would have to support sending the proposed contract zone on to the Board of Selectmen, which would decide if it should go to voters. If approved by voters, the project would then undergo a detailed review and approval process, based on the new contract zone standards.
Community members who spoke Monday urged the board to not let the proposal go any further.
“This is déjà vu all over again. This proposal is another Trojan horse galloping through Lower Village. My neighbors will describe graphically the disastrous consequences on the fabric of this community if this proposal goes forward,” said Robert Lyons, who has lived in Lower Village since the 1970s. “This Trojan horse must be stopped at the stall.”
The proposed contract zone, which would be known as the Kennebunk Harbor LLC Contract Zone, is proposed by the Kennebunk Harbor Hotel LLC. The property, which is located adjacent to Federal Jack’s, abuts the Lower Village business district and is currently in the Coastal Residential Zone, Shoreland Overlay and Resource Protection District.
“They are proposing a contract zone that would allow the uses to be more similar to the Lower Village business district; basically hotel, multi-family and restaurant uses are the main uses that they want on site,” said Town Planner Judy Bernstein. “They also want different setbacks, different other standards, like parking.”
The contract zone proposal would allow for a year-round, 80-room boutique, “four diamond” hotel, with six residential condominium units, a level of underground parking, a 40-seat restaurant, and an easement along shore frontage for a pedestrian waterfront trail.
Access to the 17,000-square-foot hotel is proposed off of Western Avenue, with one-way traffic out on to Doane’s Wharf Road then to Beach Avenue. There may be a need for additional off-site parking, developers said.
The proposal would allow a maximum building height of 50 feet.
David Bateman, president of Bateman Partners LLC, said the company’s partner in hotel development is Hart Hotels, out of Buffalo, New York.
The company operates 11 hotels including the Portland Harbor Hotel in Maine, he said. The boutique hotels are “non-franchised” and are “very high end,” he said.
Kicking off more than an hour of discussion amongst the applicant and Planning Board members, Chairman Chris MacClinchey asked why the proposal is necessary. Bateman said the town’s comprehensive plan calls for additional hotel rooms in town and that the hotel would bring jobs to the area.
“High tide floats all boats. To the extent that we can raise the awareness, raise the ability for more visitors, all the other facilities and business people will get their fair share,” he said. “I think that we’re a good neighbor in the areas that we work within. We’re excited about the opportunities I think we could bring here. I know it will be nothing short of the high standards that we set at every other facility that we own and operate.”
Planning Board member Bob Metcalf — who expressed concern with public safety, traffic and parking — said he is going to need to be convinced “that this is something this town needs.”
“For the longest time we had no redevelopment or any interest in Lower Village and in the past eight years, all hell has broken loose,” he said, adding that while development has its benefits, “you can overdo something.”
“My concern is convincing me that this is a benefit to the community. You cited a lot of significant points that we obviously have to weigh, but for me as a board member, I need to truly be convinced that this is something this town needs,” Metcalf said.
The more than one dozen residents who spoke Monday were clear they don’t believe it is. Each highlighted questions and concerns ranging from the additional traffic, congestion, and safety concerns the proposal would bring to an already hectic area; whether such a large facility is actually needed in the area; and why a contract zone should be approved when zoning standards are already in place and the proposal does not meet them.
“We’re not the Old Port. We’re not anti-business. I’m just kinda sitting here wondering when does the madness stop in 04043, our beautiful little town,” said Chase Hill Road resident Pat Foley. “When does an applicant, who wants to create a new business zone in a residential area, get thrown out of the town hall by the back of their neck and told ‘sorry folks, we’re not going to do it.’ At some point we have to stop the craziness that’s going on in Lower Village.”
Bonnie Clement, who owns H.B. Provisions, said at the proposed 50 feet, the hotel would be “one of the biggest buildings in Lower Village.”
“I don’t think we need that. I don’t think we want that,” she said. “There are a lot of issues. I think we have to really watch it. Unfortunately, you will be watched under a microscope because I think it’s really important to all of us. We don’t want to go, ‘oh here we go again.’”
Greg and Heather Burke, who have lived in the Kennebunks since 1994, purchased a house on Doane’s Wharf Lane on July 14. They soon realized the home’s foundation is compromised and it needs to be rebuilt. Burke said they met with Bernstein and asked “what do we do?”
“We’ve got strict regulations in this town. We’re on the water. We will work within those strict guidelines, every one of them,” he said.
But when Bernstein showed the Burke’s the contract zone and hotel proposal, Greg Burke said “we were heartbroken” and “crushed.”
The plan, he said, makes no allotment for green space and if approved the new contract zone would “bump up against” seven properties.
“It’s a neighborhood down there and we were excited to move into it and we hope to be. We’re appalled, though,” he said. “Please stop this out of the gate. I’d like to start sleeping nights again, OK?”