KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — The Kennebunkport Conservation Trust is optimistic that a project to replicate a former grist mill at Mill Lane Park will move forward despite a lawsuit to thwart it.
Mill Lane Park, located on the shore of Kennebunk River, is the site of a former grist mill built in 1749 that burned down in 1994.
The land trust purchased the property in 2006, and received permission from the town’s Planning Board in September 2015 to construct a replica of the former mill, which it plans to incorporate in educational programs.
In recent weeks, preliminary site work, including the removal of a dead tree, has been conducted. The trust has hired Heritage Restorations of Waco, Texas, to reconstruct the building, and the company is searching for lumber and materials from mills built around the same time period as the former grist mill.
But neighbors of the park — Jon Eagleson, Susan Graesser, Susan Graham, Lora McGrath, C. Evan and Jenifer Stewart, and Gretchen and Peter Warren — filed a lawsuit in October against the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust and the town of Kennebunkport.
The plaintiffs are against plans to rebuild the mill and open it to visitors as a museum and educational tool, and claim the land trust didn’t state plans to rebuild the grist mill when it purchased the property, but instead said it wanted to preserve it as an open space.
According to the suit, which was filed by Portland attorney John Bannon, the museum would have adverse consequences to the value and peaceful enjoyment of the plaintiff ’s properties through:
- Increased traffic and parking congestion on the narrow neighborhood streets
- Noise caused by the grist mill, visitors to the museum and functions held on the property
- Risk of fire or explosion by combustible flour dust generated by the grist mill and obstruction of scenic views of the Kennebunk River
The plaintiffs also argue that the Planning Board’s decision fails to meet numerous requirements of the town’s land use ordinance.
The original grist mill was built on the property in 1749 by Capt. Thomas Perkins, who moved his family to the area in 1720 from New Hampshire. It used the tides from the Kennebunkport River for power to grind corn into meal until 1937.
In 1939, the daughter of the last miller opened a tearoom and then a restaurant in the building. The structure was destroyed by arson in 1994.
The plaintiffs — as well as others opposing the mill — state on a blog that the former restaurant had a grandfathered, non-conforming use status but lost its grandfathered status when a new building was not built within the zoning ordinance’s time limit.
The group also states that Mill Lane Park is in the Village Residential Zone, and that parts are in shoreland and resource protection zones, where an operational grist mill is not allowed.
Kennebunkport Conservation Trust Executive Director Tom Bradbury said in an email Thursday that the trust is optimistic the court will make a decision in its favor.
“When that time comes, we are anxious to create the only working tidal mill in North America and are ready to move forward,” he said.