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Historic building reviews continue

By Jennifer L. Saunders
[email protected]

December 14, 2005 YORK BEACH, MAINE- Two major projects aimed at bringing new life to historic buildings in the business district have taken a significant step closer to becoming reality.

However, questions remain in need of answers before the Planning Board will grant approval to renovation and expansion plans at the Atlantic House and Kearsarge House in York Beach.

On Thursday, Dec. 8, the Planning Board began its formal review of both projects.

Although the renovation projects are separately owned and proposed, they are linked by shared parking and the similar nature of each plan - including the same design team.

The Planning Board discussed several key issues related to the projects, including residential density, building height, setbacks and parking, but did not make any final determination on the applications.

The board has asked the applicants for additional information - especially related to parking concerns - and will continue the review at a future meeting.

Harold Anderson, owner of the Kearsarge House - currently home to Shelton’s and Gabby Sullivan’s as well as several residential units - and Don Rivers, who owns the Atlantic House that most recently served as home to Pop’s Shell Shack, were represented at the meeting by Peter Dunfey, John DeStefano of DeStefano Architects and JoAnn Fryer of CLD Engineering.

If the projects are ultimately approved by the Planning Board, the Kearsarge House will be renovated with one additional story added to increase the number of residential units. The building will continue to house the gift shop and restaurant, but will have 19 condominiums as opposed to the current mix of 10 seasonal and year-round residences.

"We’re proposing to reconstruct the building with similar uses to what it has now," Dunfey told the Planning Board.

The Atlantic House, which was once a stately Victorian-era hotel but has fallen on hard times in recent years, would be renovated and reconfigured to house upscale retail shops on the first floor, a year-round restaurant on the second floor and nine residential units.

Only a handful of people spoke during the public hearings for each project.

Helen Rollins Lord of the town’s Historic District Commission discussed the applicant’s request to increase the building height of the Kearsarge House to four stories. The commission has issued letters of support for both projects based on the historic significance of the Victorian-era buildings.

"The four stories would have been common at that time," she said of the height increase.

By way of a point of information, Lord noted that currently, other buildings in the beach are not more than three stories in height.

"We would not consider the height compatible" by today’s standards, she said, but "when it was first built, it would have been compatible" with the historic structures of that time.

Local resident James Gambrill spoke toward both the Kearsarge and Atlantic renovations.

"Everyone I know is eager ... to see (them) restored," he said, adding that concerns about impact in the beach area - especially with respect to parking - remain. "It’s so important that both these developers prove they have adequate parking."

Bill Roche, speaking on behalf of his fellow Gull Street residents, told the Planning Board that as abutters to the project they have been discussing their concerns related to impacts on their quality of life with Dunfey.

"We’re optimistic that we can get in writing a lot of our concerns," Roche told the board, adding Dunfey has worked with the residents to iron out their concerns. He asked the board to consider their concerns regarding screening, landscaping and aesthetics, which he will provide in writing, as the approval process moves forward.

The board also acknowledged receiving letters of support from York Beach business owners Phyllis Fox, Stephen Dunne and Brent Merritt.

Another issue, which Gambrill brought up during the public hearing, is a proposal to use the dwelling units in each renovated building as hotel space until such time as the developers receive their Residential Growth Permits for the condominiums.

"The conflict there is frightening," he said.

It is an issue Town Planner Steve Burns has brought to the Planning Board’s attention as well. In his review of the two projects before the meeting, Burns asked the board to carefully consider that request as the approval process moves forward.

"Sounds like an end-around to the growth ordinance to me," Burns wrote in his report, urging the board to seek the Code Enforcement Office’s input before making any decision. "The board was supportive during the conceptual discussions in February, but I see this as Pandora’s Box. This would introduce a whole new level of complication for staff administratively - having to track interim then, later, final new uses and conditions."

The board will discuss the growth issue, along with additional parking concerns, when it continues its review at a future meeting.

The applicants have agreed to provide additional details on what they anticipate the need for parking will be for each project and ways that potential demand could be managed beyond the 48 off-site spaces allotted behind The Black Dog.

Burns pointed out that plans for the restaurant at The Atlantic House have included a "celebrity chef," which might generate more traffic than a standard restaurant.

Chairman Barrie Munro and Vice Chairman Glen MacWilliams urged the applicants to provide more detailed parking plans, as suggested by Burns.

MacWilliams said that the Planning Board has some flexibility in terms of parking provisions, but needs information in order to move forward.

A date for the next review has not been set.

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