YORK, Maine — The owners of the iconic Kearsarge House in York Beach are seeking a change in town law that will allow them to move forward with plans to demolish the building and construct a replica on the site.
Elaine and Michael Morgillo, working in tandem with the Planning Board, have proposed an amendment to the York Beach Village District that would eliminate density limits for dwelling units above the ground floor in all downtown York Beach buildings — not just the Kearsarge House. Currently, no more than eight units per building are allowed.
The Morgillos are proposing to keep the first-floor storefronts in the new building but to create 20-24 “fractional share” studio, one- and two-bedroom condominium-type units which would be purchased by people for a set period of time. The cost, including furnishings, of the new building is expected to be $6 million.
The Morgillos say the change, which they would like to see on the May ballot, is “critical” to their development, or the project will be delayed for a year due to a summer construction ban. Michael Morgillo said more than 900 people have expressed interest in the units, and he’s concerned about lost momentum and credibility if construction cannot begin this fall.
The Morgillos bought the Kearsarge House and a parking lot on Main Street three years ago for $1.1 million. Since then, they said in a March 6 letter to selectmen, they have been analyzing the best uses for the property and decided that a teardown of the existing building was necessary. The 19th century building is deteriorating, they said, and they have already invested significant money in repairs.
The Morgillos have not presented a formal proposal to the Planning Board yet. They met with the board last fall to introduce their concept, and Michael Morgillo said they have met in workshop session with the board several times since. In a domino effect, he said, without the ordinance change, they can’t get a building permit, and without the building permit, they can’t get financing.
After a workshop in February, Planning Board members decided to propose the ordinance directly to the selectmen, who are set to hold a hearing March 23 and then vote on whether to bring it before voters.
“We wanted to get something through,” Planning Board member Lew Stowe told the Board of Selectmen at a recent meeting. “This is a building that will make a huge difference for the town. If we don’t pass this in May, we could lose anywhere from a year to two years. It’s so critical that I think we need to give them a chance to at least take a shot at it.”
Town Planner Dylan Smith said the proposal is in sync with the town’s comprehensive plan, which states that density requirements “should be adjusted … to allow additional condominium development in the area” of York Beach.
He said the ordinance doesn’t necessarily open “Pandora’s box” because there are many other requirements that have to be met as well before a York Beach building owner can just add unlimited units — including parking requirements, sewer and water hookups and exterior building appearance.
The Morgillos’ proposal has the support of the Historic District Commission, which approved the demolition because the couple plans to essentially reproduce the Kearsarge House.
“All members of the Historic District Commission would urge you to do all within your power to accommodate the rebuild of the Kearsarge by not delaying a vote,” chair Robert Cutts wrote in a letter to selectmen.
The Morgillos in their letter urged selectmen to allow the ordinance to go forward.
“We are designing a beautiful building that will enhance the image of York Beach and add more than $100,000 per year to property tax revenue; we have developed a business plan that will benefit all of the businesses in the area by bringing more visitors to York Beach,” they wrote.