Public hearing set for dinner request

By Stephanie Grinnell | May 06, 2014

Camden — A request for a special exception allowing certain bed and breakfast establishments to serve meals to guests will be considered during a public hearing before the Planning Board May 15.

The original request for the change was made by Windward House owner Kristi Bifulco, who has been working with the Planning Board for months to create wording for the special exception. Her proposal would allow High Street B&Bs within 500 feet of a zone where restaurants are allowed to serve meals to overnight guests.

Camden's zoning ordinance does not define B&Bs, instead the businesses are labled inns. There are fewer than a half dozen inns that would qualify for the special exception, according to previously published reports.

The Windward House property is considered a nonconforming lot due to its acreage. Because it is nonconforming, a special exception is needed to allow more intense use than was in place when the ordinance was adopted in 2005. As proposed by Bifulco, a nonconforming inn "abutting High St. and within 500 feet of a zone where restaurants are an allowed use may be granted a special exception and allowed to serve meals to guests only, subject to meeting the standards of a low impact use as determined by the Zoning Board of Appeals."

Confusing the issue somewhat on May 1 during a regular Planning Board meeting was a proposal made by Planning Board member John Scholz, who was not present. He submitted a written proposal to allow all inns in Camden to serve evening meals to overnight guests, citing it as an ordinance simplification and leveling of the playing field. Scholz stated in his proposal the change should remain a special exception, as not all inns will want, or be able, to meet the state requirements for kitchen licensing.

"I was surprised to see it as an agenda item yesterday," Bifulco said. "I've been working on this for three years. ... It's very specific to my neighborhood. It's not an expansive change."

She said the B&B association did not appear to be interested in the broader proposal.

"We will be part of the discussion but we will not be the face of it," Bifulco said.

Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson noted that both proposals could be considered.

"But if you say all B&Bs have to be yellow by special exception then turn around and say they have to be green, you have a problem," he said. "You don't have to deal with everything at the same time. ... Consider each and how it affects the other."

Several members of the public addressed the Planning Board, with the majority expressing concern about the impact on other downtown businesses if B&Bs are allowed to serve dinner to guests.

"One or two or three or four less dinners could be a breaking point for some people," Swan House B&B owner Ken Kohl said, noting the recent loss of three restaurants in town. Kohl also said he is not for, or against, Bifulco's proposal.

"Let's not lose sight of what's good for business as a whole," resident Neil Sweet said. " ... We don't want to have death by 1,000 cuts and this could be the first cut."

Selectman Leonard Lookner, speaking as a resident rather than in his municipal capacity, said limiting foot traffic by keeping guests at one location constitutes "starving" those other businesses that rely on foot traffic, including restaurants.

"We are all concerned about having a thriving downtown," resident Judy McGuirk said.

She said one business located near her home already is abusing the ambiguity of certain ordinances and it is very disruptive to her neighborhood.

"I know you feel those of us that come here on a regular basis don't want [any] change, but that's not true," McGuirk said. " ... It's gotten very muddled and that's what we're concerned about."

The special exception is not the first ordinance change sought by Bifulco. Nearly a year ago, she and two other nearby inn owners — Abigail's and Hawthorne Inn — presented a zoning change that would have created a new multi-use zone allowing the three businesses to expand into restaurants, spas or retail. That proposal caused a public outcry during a June 2013 Planning Board meeting that lasted nearly four hours.

The public hearing May 15 will address the special exception wording proposed by Bifulco only, followed by a possible discussion of the additional ordinance change proposed by Scholz, according to the agenda for the meeting. Bifulco is expected to make a full presentation outlining her scaled down proposal prior to the public hearing, which begins at 5 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room.

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