Cape Elizabeth council says no to marriage party proposal
CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council on Monday denied a request to hold a precedent-setting wedding reception at Fort Williams Park.
Tucker Jordan of Old Ocean House Road submitted the proposal to the Fort Williams Advisory Commission for use of a field immediately south of Portland Head Light.
But he has had to change his plans after town officials said the plan to erect a tent and have a lobster bake for up to 250 people on June 4 is inconsistent with park policy.
Formal events like weddings and other receptions are now allowed only at the Fort Williams picnic shelter. That area has a fire pit, nearby parking and tents are allowed. The all-day fee for a group to use the shelter is $450. There is a $100 wedding or partnership ceremony fee, which would be waived if the shelter is used in conjunction with the ceremony.
Advisory commission Chairman Bill Nickerson said the group is working to revise the Fort Williams master plan and will address wedding receptions and other revenue-generating events.
He said the only events that have been allowed to pitch tents on the field near the lighthouse are the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10k, a U.S. Coast Guard change of command ceremony and a governor's conference in the early 1980s.
"It is premature to allow tents to be put up on the green until we have a plan in place," Nickerson said. He listed noise, smoke from the lobster bake, parking issues and potential visitor disruptions as concerns, and said the commission suggested that Jordan instead reserve the picnic shelter.
But Jordan declined.
"I am not at all interested in having the reception at the picnic shelter," he said Wednesday afternoon. "I don't want to set up a tent in front of a cement slab. I was trying to do something for the town and I think they failed miserably with this (decision.)"
Jordan said Southern Maine Community College gets $3,000 for the use of a field overlooking Willard Beach, where guests have access to Bug Light and Spring Point Ledge Light. He said he would rather have his reception at Maxwell's Farm than use the picnic shelter.
He suggested to the council that granting him permission to use the field for up to 250 guests would help the town learn how to organize large events in the future. He also said he would give the town access to photographs and video to promote the venue for future receptions. He said he did not intend to serve alcohol and was willing to be a "guinea pig."
"If it's a complete failure, they could learn from it," he said.
But on Monday, Councilors Jessica Sullivan, Anne Swift-Kayata, Jim Welsh and Chairman David Sherman agreed a plan should be in place before the council could grant requests for receptions.
Welsh also said he was concerned with the timing of the request. He said instead of using Jordan's video and photographs as marketing materials for future wedding receptions, he would like to charge for the use of the field.
Swift-Kayata said it is important to set rules and parameters first.
"It is poor public policy for us to zip into this too fast," she said. "I think the costs and risks to the town and to users of the fort are not outweighed by the benefits to the fort or the town."
But Councilor Sara Lennon said it is time to start generating revenue from the park, with weddings and receptions as a start. She said it would be wise to use Jordan's event as a way to plan for future receptions.
"I see this as an amazing opportunity to dip our toe in this whole event," she said. "I feel eager to give this a shot and if it doesn't work we'll say no. I see this as an opportunity that sometimes you have to be spontaneous and give it a shot."
In his proposal, Jordan said it would be a special opportunity for the first wedding reception on the field to celebrate a descendant of the town's founding family.
But Sherman said his opinion is based on the merits of the proposal, regardless of the name on the application. He said he would feel more comfortable if there were defined parameters outlined in advance by the advisory commission.
"I just feel we are not quite ready for this proposal," he said. "The issue needs to be vetted a bit more."
Nickerson said the commission has not eliminated the idea that receptions can be held in areas besides the picnic shelter, but smaller events should be held first to learn from experience.
"We can learn from these smaller receptions in conjunction with the master plan," he said. "Part of this is having a plan and doing it right."
Councilor Caitlin Jordan, who is Tucker Jordan's sister, recused herself from the discussion.
In other business, the council scheduled a public hearing at 7:30 p.m., Monday, April 25, before it votes on a $31 million municipal and school budget.
The proposed budget includes a tax-rate increase of 2.4 percent, from $17.86 to $18.28 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Two residents spoke in favor of the budget on Monday.
Dan Fishbein of Hunts Point Road said the budget shows careful planning and is a testament to the success of the "one-town" concept.
"It looks like a great outcome and I hope the community supports you," he said.
Jana Zimmerman of Oakhurst Road said school budget process was "free of rancor" and less divisive than in previous years. She said the budget process was based on problem solving and finding solutions in a clear manner.
At a meeting on Tuesday, April, 12 the school board ratified a three-year teacher contract with the teachers union that will increase the base salary by 0.5 percent for next year. Over the next two years, increases will be in line with the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. In 2013 salaries will increase between 0.5 percent and 2 percent, and in 2014 will increase between 0.5 percent and 3 percent.
Athletic and co-curricular stipends will not increase in 2012, but will be raised 50 cents an hour in 2013 and in 2014.
The school budget validation referendum is May 10.