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York Beach business owners and the York Chamber of Commerce are rallying to revitalize the local business district.
Photo by Deb Cram

Pop’s Shell Shack awaits approval

By Jennifer L. Saunders
[email protected]

October 19, 2005 YORK MAINE- Don Rivers’ dream is to see the historic Atlantic House returned to the glory of days gone by.

And although the Victorian-era seaside hotel is at least weeks away from gaining Planning Board approval for its new lease on life, Rivers is optimistic about the future.

On Thursday, Oct. 13, Rivers and members of his design team approached the Planning Board for guidance on how to move forward with the project.

The Planning Board will not hear the formal application until Oct. 27 at the earliest, and that may be delayed to Nov. 10, depending on the length of the first meeting.

However, architect John DeStefano asked the board last week whether the team could begin demolition work in and around the property.

The work, he said, would not affect the footprint of the original Atlantic House, aka as Pop’s Shell Shack, but would include removing a porch that will be rebuilt. The plan was also to demolish apartments that were added on the structure years later.

The Planning Board advised against exterior demolition, pointing to provisions in the town’s ordinance and the issue of "grandfathered" status for dwelling units within the building.

However, the board agreed nothing in the ordinance prevents Rivers and his team beginning cleanup, working within the four-story structure, and the team could take steps to preserve the structure.

As Planning Board member Glenn Farrell put it, "If you don’t shore this up soon, it’s going to fall down."

Planning Board members have repeatedly stated they believe the project would be a positive addition to York Beach, especially as efforts are under way for a renaissance at the beach business district.

Chairman Barrie Munro cautioned Rivers and DeStefano that the nod to interior renovations does not mean the project will be approved.

Several issues must be addressed, Munro said, before the Planning Board can support the application.

Issues include parking, density and the structure’s historic value.

Rivers, meanwhile, said he is confident about the project’s future.

"I was very positive that the Planning Board seemed very receptive to us and willing to help us try to get this through," he said after the meeting.

The Planning Board also heard from Historic District Commission Chairwoman Helen Rollins Lord for guidance regarding that group’s role in the project.

The Planning Board authorized the HDC to provide a letter of historic significance to the board in the weeks ahead to comply with town requirements.

"We are very much in favor of this project going forward because it would make an enormous difference to that area of town," Lord said, adding she believes the project should only go forward according to the town’s accepted procedure.

If that requires a public vote, that is what should be done, she said.

"These buildings are not listed as historic buildings," she said.

Without that designation, the projects may not be eligible for certain waivers or zoning provisions.

Lord said one issue has been a requested legal opinion from the town’s attorney regarding the historic designation of the property. She said she will return to the Planning Board with the town’s legal opinion once it has been received.

Rivers, however, remains optimistic that the projects will be able to move forward with a letter of support from the HDC.

Rivers said his ultimate goal is to win Planning Board approval in the weeks ahead and have construction completed before the next summer season.

As DeStefano put it, "We need to start the project. We don’t want to be down there this summer under construction. ... There’s a window here."

DeStefano said there is a fully developed site plan for the project that addresses parking needs. He said he also has letters from each agency related to the project.

The project will include upscale shops on the first floor, a year-round restaurant on the second and residential condominiums on the third and fourth floors.

Harold Anderson, another business owner in York Beach and a member of the York Beach Renaissance Committee, said approval of Rivers’ project would "would go a long way" toward improving the area.

"That would be fantastic," Anderson said of the Atlantic House plan.

Anderson owns the nearby Kearsarge House, which houses Shelton’s. Anderson has also applied for exterior renovation and conversion of condominiums above the existing store.

When the projects were first brought before the Planning Board, Town Planner Steve Burns described them as "absolutely what the comprehensive plan calls for in the beach, to get some reinvestment in these old buildings."

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