Proposal to allow Norumbega to serve some meals to the public moves forward

By Susan Mustapich | Feb 06, 2019
Source: File photo A proposed zoning change could allow the Norumbega Inn on High Street to serve meals to the public.

CAMDEN — Supporters of a proposed zoning change that could allow the Norumbega Inn's restaurant to offer limited service to the public outnumbered opponents at a Jan. 31 Planning Board hearing.

After the public hearing, Planning Board members voted unanimously to move the proposed zoning change forward to the Select Board. Zoning changes ultimately require a public vote at the polls.

The proposal would allow Norumbega owners Susan Walser and Phil Crispo to serve meals to the public in their 28-seat dining room, in addition to their guests. If approved by a public vote, Walser and Crispo would first have to obtain a special exception from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Planning Board Chairperson Rosie Curtis sees a future Zoning Board hearing as a mechanism for bringing together the owners and neighbors, who include both supporters and opponents, to work out an agreement. She said she has confidence that the ZBA will take neighbors' concerns seriously, that they will be listened to and taken care of, and that there is an opportunity for dialog  where "everyone works together to come up with a solution that's acceptable."

Walser and Crispo spoke about how they see themselves as stewards of the property, located at 63 High St., and the major improvements they have made to the building.

Crispo has been a chef for 36 years and an instructor with the Culinary Institute of America. He explained that when they began to search for an inn to buy, they were aware that such a search usually involves looking at 40 to 50 inns. He and Wolser looked at one, the Norumbega.

Crispo said he would like to open the inn's dining room up a bit and let people see and experience the place.

High Street neighbor Joanne Ball, who lives across from the Norumbega, supports the proposed change. During the hearing, she retold some details from a complex history of zoning controversies surrounding the property over the past decades.

High Street neighbor Bill Butler supports Walser and Crispo's efforts and noted that they are improving the property. Aladar Nesser said he is one of the newest of the High Street neighbors, and has no concerns about the proposed zoning change.

Phil Landi, who lives on Belmont Avenue, lauded Crispo's reputation as a chef, and is another supporter, as is Richard Crossman, who lives on Union Street.

Deb Dodge, who lived on High Street for many years, supports the requirement that any expansion of meal service require ZBA approval, and said she had suggested this. She remains concerned about the intent and meaning of the language of the proposed zoning change, saying that it does not specify whether the Norumbega's dining service must remain as it is, or could expand significantly. She said the current language does not give the voting public enough information about what the change and expansion might become.

Norumbega Drive neighbors Judy and Dennis McGuirk have expressed opposition to the zoning proposal. On Jan. 31, Judy McGuirk said she hopes Norumbega's owners will be able to work with the neighbors, and that they "won't end up with a restaurant with a few rooms upstairs." She pointed out that, as a historic property, the building is eligible for federal, state and private grants to help take care of the exterior.

Dennis McGuirk said that any special exception from the ZBA must be consistent with the purpose of the Village District where the Norumbega is located, which is to maintain the residential neighborhood along with "compatible, residential-scale businesses."

Jen Healy, who lives on Mountain Arrow Road, off of High Street, is opposed to the idea that anyone other than the owner of a property should be responsible for maintaining the viability of the property. Pat Skaling, who also lives on Mountain Arrow Road, asked if the zoning change would open the area up to creeping commercialism.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Valerie Wass | Feb 07, 2019 06:35

Good luck to the owners.  What a wonderful idea.  Many locals have not been in to see this extraordinary building.  They are missing out on a huge part of Camden’s history.  It wil Benefit all of Camden and the owners. I see this opportunity as a win win situation.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Feb 06, 2019 12:13

Traffic will be a problem going in and out as a favorite eatery...perhaps... and zoning already is a problem, isn't it? It was and is just an Inn and should probably remain an Inn. Soft impact on the surrounding residentials' would be a welcome relief, perhaps?

Posted by: Jeff Sukeforth | Feb 06, 2019 08:38

Sounds an awfully lot like the typical Camden response--NIMBY.

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