Selectmen reject placing special exception on ballot

By Stephanie Grinnell | Aug 13, 2014

Camden — Following a public hearing Aug. 12, Selectmen rejected the request for a special exception which would have allowed certain inns to serve dinner to be placed on the November ballot.

Windward House owner Kristi Bifulco has been working on wording for the special exception for three years with the Planning Board and Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson. The exception would have allowed her and two other inns on High Street to apply with the Zoning Board of Appeals to serve dinner to guests.

"I've been truly humbled by this experience," Bifulco said, later adding she did not want to ask for a zoning change but it was the only way to frame her proposal.

She said there have been many people who have expressed support of the proposal, but she did not feel comfortable asking them to speak when they are dealing with recent tragedy.

"I don't have the heart to ask area families to come when they are dealing with things more important than my proposal," Bifulco said.

Nearly a dozen residents addressed Selectmen, with a large majority speaking against the proposal.

"Why have zoning at all if we are going to patch together changes?" asked Gould Street resident Tom Filip." ... the zoning ordinance has allowed change to happen in a controlled manner."

Russ McKenna suggested the Planning Board "did not want to deal with it and let it through" for the Select Board to decide.

A number of residents expressed concern about what impact might be made on other restaurants in town with a loss of potential customers.

"This would be very bad for Camden, if it's on High Street or anywhere else," Dennis McGuirk said, adding the special exception would not be fair to other businesses. "It's allowing [Windward House] to skim off the top the most valuable customers."

Camden Harbor Inn owner Oscar Verest suggested any zoning changes be put off until a review of the Comprehensive Plan is complete. He said though Selectmen took a lot of heat from the public regarding the Fox Hill vote, they should look at what is best for the town.

"Do what you think is best for the town and not for the popularity vote," Verest said.

The sole voice speaking in support of the proposal, Hillary Steinau, said she was initially concerned about the change but has since come to support it.

"We need to do more to support the small family business," she said. "I urge you to let people vote."

Selectmen each addressed the proposal before voting as well and each voted as they indicated.

"This is an important issue," Don White said. "Change is inevitable. ... I think that [Bifulco] has worked hard on this for years to create something that's allowable under our zoning."

White said he was in favor of sending the proposal to voters, as did Martin Cates.

"To me, it's not about vindication for Fox Hill," Cates said.

Speaking against the proposal were Leonard Lookner, John French and Jim Heard. French admitted he came into the public hearing leaning toward sending the issue to voters and cited new information as his reason for voting against it.

Lookner said he attended Planning Board meetings and made suggestions he thought would improve the proposal.

"There was no give on the Planning Board," he said.

Courier Publications Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at sgrinnell@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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Stephanie Grinnell
(207) 236-8511 ext. 302
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Stephanie has served as editor of Camden Herald since its return in April 2012.

Previously, she was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has worked a number of years in the newspaper business from southern Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and two chickens.

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