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News

Revitalizing York Beach

By Jennifer L. Saunders
jsaunders@seacoastonline.com

October 19, 2005 YORK BEACH, MAINE- Saturday is the day to have your say in what may well be a new era for the shops and businesses of the beach.

York Beach Renaissance Committee will host its York Beach Community Visioning Dialogues this Saturday, Oct. 22, at the York Senior Center.

"The York Beach Renaissance Committee has been working for almost two years to develop a renovation plan for Railroad Avenue and Ocean Avenue to improve the look and feel of the Short Sands commercial district," said Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cathy Goodwin.

The committee is hoping members of the community will come forward to share thoughts and opinions on what is best for York Beach.

The York Beach Renaissance Committee is made up of local residents and business owners including Joe Lipton, Don Rivers, Jim Murphy, Dawn Fernald, Maureen Regan, Nick Papin and Harold Anderson.

The Board of Selectmen is also encouraging residents to attend and share their thoughts during this formative stage of the process.

"I personally think this is a very overdue and worthy cause," Selectmen Chairman David Marshall told his fellow board members last week.

Goodwin said topics could range from whether parking should be eliminated along the storefronts to whether the town should build an access road from Route 1 directly into the beach area.

Other issues include whether residents would like to see Ocean Avenue and Railroad Avenue become two-way streets throughout the year.

The committee has also been considering ways to make York Beach a destination through all months of the year, and not just during the sunny summer days when the beach draws thousands for swimming and sunbathing.

Lipton, who owns Inn on the Blues, joined the committee when he purchased the building and started his business two years ago.

Being a longtime resident of York, Lipton said he sees the need for a comprehensive plan to get things done in the beach.

It is bigger than one person or one group, he said, adding the committee needs the support of the community to get things done.

"Through this committee, we’ve all come up with different ideas and thoughts, ranging from big things to little things," Lipton said. "We believe the only way to really make something like this work is to get community involvement. The town, I hope, will see that there is a need for capital improvement down here. ... We want to see what everyone else has to say."

Rivers, whose business is based in York Beach, has been at work on a project to rejuvenate the former Atlantic House. The Victorian-era hotel was most recently the home of Pop’s Shell Shack.

As a member of the committee, Rivers said he shares a vision for a new era at York Beach.

"The beach needs a little shot in the arm," he said. "It just needs a facelift, and so the Renaissance Committee has been doing a great job with it. They are consistent and persevering."

For example, Goodwin and members of the committee said they have been exploring whether more parking should be created in the area and where additional spaces would go.

Looking toward technology, residents might be interested in the addition of a wireless communication facility to improve cell phone reception and allow such options as wireless Internet connection for patrons of York Beach businesses.

And moving outside, Goodwin suggested, residents might be interested in such infrastructure as a new bathhouse or a covered trolley stop in the beach.

"York Beach does serve a significant commercial function in this town. ... It is time for some changes. York is really quaint. It is not Kennebunk and it is not Ogunquit. We have to be what we are," said Anderson, who owns Shelton’s. "... The most difficult thing will be determining does everybody really want this."

During the visioning sessions, Goodwin said the committee will share the core of what its members have envisioned to date.

After detailing thoughts on a new life for York Beach, the committee will invite those attending the sessions to offer feedback and new ideas.

The series will consist of four sessions to be held at 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

"The same 15-minute presentation will start things off each hour, and then those present will have 45 minutes to brainstorm and react," Goodwin said.

Following the event, Goodwin said the committee’s information will be posted on the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce Web site at www.gatewaytomaine.org.

Through the end of November, the chamber will also post a survey on its Web site to encourage local residents to vote for their favorite ideas for the future of York Beach.

"In December or early January, the final draft of the redevelopment plan will be presented to the selectmen for their approval," Goodwin said. "Our hope is to get the plan onto the ballot in May - along with a plan to pay for the improvements - so that the first phase of work can begin during the fall of 2006."

Lipton said the committee has reviewed a comprehensive study of the beach area that was completed in 1990. At the time, existing infrastructure needs were pointed out - needs that remain 15 years later.

However, Lipton said, that plan seemed to be a case of too much, too soon, and did not win the town’s support.

Lipton said he hopes the result of this weekend’s efforts and feedback gathered in the weeks ahead will be "an idea or a plan that has a little bit of everything so that when you go and you ask for local support it will be there."

A question that needs to be answered in the process, Anderson said, is where the town wants commercial business.

"We want to enhance what’s here, and we want the whole town to be proud of York Beach," Anderson said.

The Senior Center is located behind the York Police Department on Main Street in York Beach. For details or directions, call the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce at 363-4422.

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