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A painting by Wells resident John Richard Perry Sr., shows how the former home of Pop's Shell Shack
appeared in its glory days in 1890's York Beach. Perry has a gallery at York Beach at Shelton's.
John Richard Perry Sr.

Board reviews Atlantic House renovation plan

By Jennifer L. Saunders
jsaunders@seacoastonline.com

March 2, 2005 YORK BEACH MAINE- The former Atlantic House hotel building, most commonly known as Pop's Shell Shack, could begin its journey back to its glory days of the Victorian era as early as this autumn.

To make that revitalization a reality, however, there will be many hurdles for developers to cross.

That was the essence of the Planning Board's direction to Don Rivers, who was before the board last week with members of his design team seeking conceptual approval of a plan to renovate the building to include upscale shops on the first floor, a year-round restaurant on the second and six residential condominiums on the third and fourth floors.

From the outset, Rivers has maintained his goal is to recapture the style and grace of the Atlantic House in its 19th-century heyday.


Don Rivers stands in front of Pop's Shell Shack in York Beach.
John Richard Perry Sr.
At last weeks Planning Board meeting, Bob Dunfey spoke on behalf of Rivers' company, Rivers by the Sea, describing the goal to "launch an unprecedented effort" to improve the York Beach business district.

Dunfey said the goal is to create more shopping options for tourists and residents alike on the first floor while creating a "destination restaurant" - such as Arrow's in Ogunquit or the White Barn in Kennebunk - on the second floor. He noted a Boston chef has expressed interest in opening a restaurant in the Atlantic House if the project comes to fruition.

One issue will be the condominiums on the third and fourth floor, which must await growth permits before they can be sold. Given that reality, Dunfey told the board that Rivers by the Sea may apply to rent the top two floors as hotel space and convert them into condominiums gradually, as the growth permits become available.

Town Planner Steve Burns reviewed the preliminary proposal with the board, citing such concerns as parking in York Beach - which was also brought up by a fellow business owner and two residents of York Beach.

Dunfey explained that Rivers and Harold Anderson, who owns the nearby Kearsarge House, which is applying for an exterior renovation and conversion of condominiums above the existing Shelton's, are proposing parking in a lot located behind The Black Dog.

The board said parking will be an essential part of the approval process, and permits may be granted contingent on the parking spaces being assigned to the Atlantic House and Kearsarge House in perpetuity.

Although the Kearsarge House has been maintained to a much greater degree than the Atlantic House, Dunfey and Anderson described the face-lift there as a return to the grandeur of York Beach's Victorian hotels.

Burns explained to the board that the proposal to renovate the Atlantic House includes about 5,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor, 3,400 square feet of restaurant space on the second floor, and 6,000 square feet of residential space on the top two floors. The Kearsarge House would continue to have Shelton's and a restaurant on its first floor, but would be renovated with 15 to 20 condominiums on the second and third floors. Exterior renovations would recapture the character of the building's history as a Victorian hotel.

"This is absolutely what the Comprehensive Plan calls for in the beach, to get some reinvestment in these old buildings," Burns told the board.

The proposals are also in line with the efforts of the York Beach Renaissance Committee, which is working to preserve the historic character of York Beach while making the area not just a destination for tourists, but for residents as well.

Burns said he is looking forward to seeing formal applications for both projects submitted for the Planning Board's review but added, "we have a lot of work in front of us to get these approved."

Dunfey said revitalization projects like these will help York Beach attract those tourists who stop in the area to see the Nubble and then head up to Ogunquit or Kennebunkport to spend the day or the weekend. Instead, he said, they could stay in York, supporting the local economy at York Beach businesses and restaurants.

"I believe York Beach has the potential to be another gem in this community," he said.

"I would be very excited to see this happen, as would everybody," said David Peck of The Goldenrod, though he stressed the issue of parking must be one that is carefully reviewed as there is already a lack of adequate parking in the business district.

The Planning Board members agreed parking continues to be a problem in the area, and issues like loading and unloading at the restaurant and the renovations will be handled with an eye toward surrounding businesses.

The applicants explained they were looking for a sense from the board as to whether there is support for such a plan.

"There are a couple of showstoppers you absolutely have to overcome. ... If we can find a way to do this without being disruptive ... we'd like to move ahead with it," Chairman Barrie Munro said of the two proposals, reiterating that they are right in line with the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.

Dunfey said if the approval plan moves forward smoothly, construction on the Atlantic House renovation could begin as early as this fall, with the Kearsarge House to follow.

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