With a 4-1 vote, the Planning Board July 2 approved sending to the Select Board a zoning request to allow High Street bed and breakfasts to serve dinner.

The proposal was brought forth by Kristi Bifulco, co-owner of Windward House Bed and Breakfast on High Street. She requested a special exception be added to the town zoning ordinance to allow service of dinner to bed and breakfast guests, which is currently prohibited in the Traditional Village zone where Windward House is located. Bifulco has worked for several years on variations of the proposal, making changes and adjustment suggested by both the public and Planning Board.

The Washington Street conference room was filled to capacity and beyond for the majority of the public hearing, which lasted nearly four hours. The public hearing was a second chance for the proposal, which was defeated by a tie vote in May. That hearing and vote were pushed aside when it was belatedly discovered either Bifulco or a Planning Board member could have requested a delayed vote on the matter because the full board was not present.

Residents on both sides of the issue addressed Planning Board members in three-minute time allotments. For those in favor of the proposal, the common theme seemed to be supporting local business and local families. Those opposed cited "the slippery slope" of allowing a small change that could lead to larger and more far-reaching consequences for the town as a whole, with some calling the proposal spot zoning.

In support

"All we're trying to do here is support people already here," Conway Road resident James Cook said, describing his years-long job search and 90-minute commute.

Peter Kalajian of Ferncliff Drive concurred and said the area is not residential in nature.

"We need to provide more opportunity for people to spend money, not less," he said.

Limerock Street resident Jenny Dow said she supports the change as well and has long been a supporter of zoning. She said allowing B&Bs to serve dinner is "the very definition of low impact." Colleen Dugan said she appreciated the idea behind Bifulco's plans to create a vegan establishment and further her environmentally-friendly image.

"No one will be disturbed by the boisterous vegan diners," she said. "This is the type of clean business I'd like to see grow in Camden."

Marie Collins, a resident of High Street, said she supported the change. She said it is important to consider a variety of options.

Nancy Hughes recalled a number of businesses that have been turned into residential uses.

"Things can change and change is OK," she said. "If there's not a balance of commercial use …  the community is going to die."

Referring to the slippery slope argument, proposal supporter Janice Kay said, "So what? It's slippery. Just take your time."

In opposition

High Street resident Neale Sweet said he appreciated the proposal presented by Bifulco, but said the larger issue was about commercial activity in a residential zone.

"This is a request to increase business activity," he said.

Maine Stay Inn owner Claudio Latanza urged the Planning Board to think well on the proposal. He said the change would allow him also to serve dinners and he would feel obligated to do so to remain competitive.

Long-time restaurant owner Eleanor Masin-Peters said it was unfair to approve a change.

"When she bought it, she knew it was a bed and breakfast — not a bed and breakfast and dinner," she said.

Hartstone Inn owner Mary Jo Brink said she is in favor of entrepreneurs seeking creating solutions but concerned about monitoring and enforcing zoning. Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson said he relies on neighbors, police and fire department members to be aware of any unusual activity.

"We have to be reactive with enforcement," Wilson said. "We do not chase them."

The Inns at BlackBerry Commons owner Jim Ostrowski said the decision to purchase his properties were based on what he hoped to do in the future, as he is a trained chef. Changing the rules would create an uneven playing field, he said.

"Once you say 'yes' to Windward House, how do you say 'no' to someone else?" Ostrowski asked.

Camden Harbour Inn owner Oscar Verest also shared his opposition, citing concerns about the impact on other restaurants in town.

Next steps

The proposal will now be sent to the Select Board for consideration and additional public hearings, if deemed a valid proposal. Should the special exception be approved by the Select Board, residents would make the final decision with the issue included on a town-wide ballot.

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