SOUTHPORT, Maine — For the second year in a row, Southport town meeting voters on Monday rejected proposed amendments to bylaws that would allow a restaurant owned by a controversial businessman to sell liquor and advertise.
In 2012, liquor magnate Paul Coulombe leased the town-owned wharf and building in tiny Cozy Harbor that formerly housed Gus Pratt’s old general store, renovated the property and opened the upscale eatery Oliver’s Cozy Harbor Wharf.
When the town leased the building to Coulombe, a “limited maritime district” was established with conditions including no alcohol sales, no live music and no advertising, according to Gerry Gamage, chairman of the Southport Board of Selectmen.
Since the restaurant opened, voters approved an amendment to allow the sale of beer and wine, and on Monday, Coulombe asked voters to make more changes.
But the developer, who in 2011 built an 18,000-square-foot estate on nearby Pratt’s Island that reportedly cost $30 million, and since 2013 has acquired more than 50 properties in the Boothbay region, most recently the nearly 100-room Rocktide Inn & Restaurant, has ruffled feathers as he’s pushed developments in the region.
Again on Monday, voters denied his requests.
By written ballot, a proposed amendment to allow the sale of hard liquor was defeated 51-64, with a two-thirds majority required to pass, the Boothbay Register reported. A proposed amendment to allow advertising was defeated by a voice vote.
Coulombe, a Lewiston native, who in 1995 assumed his family business, White Rock Distilleries, and sold it in 2012 to the parent company of Jim Beam, was not present at Monday’s meeting, Gamage said. A spokeswoman for Coulombe did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
“I won’t tell you personally, but I think it’s ridiculous to have a property for lease for a business and then to put a chokehold on ‘em, that’s all I’ll say,” Gamage said.
Despite the prohibition on advertising, Gamage said selectmen are aware the restaurant has advertised, and will discuss recourse at their regular meeting on Wednesday.
“If they won’t comply, we’ll have to stop them,” he said. “We’ll have to cease the lease or whatever if they choose not to comply. It’s part of the lease. We haven’t gone down hard on them. We’ve been trying to work with ‘em, but after this vote, [voters] pretty much said what they want.”