Cumberland council rejects farm weddings proposal

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CUMBERLAND — Concern largely over the impact to neighbors prompted the Town Council Monday to reject a proposed ordinance change that would have allowed farms to host weddings as an additional revenue stream.

Councilors also decided to formally vote Monday, Nov. 13, on a developer for a moderate-income, multi-generational neighborhoods on town-owned property, depending on input from a community meeting this Wednesday, Oct. 25.

The Town Council had voted 4-3 Sept. 25 to send the farm wedding issue to the Planning Board Oct. 17, which sent a unanimous recommendation in favor back to the council.

Cumberland has 36 registered farms, and farm owner Joanne Fryer asked in January about being able to host six to eight weddings a year. But since the town did not have that as an allowable use, it originally rejected the idea, Town Manager Bill Shane has said.

But the Comprehensive Plan encourages town regulations to be modified so that registered farms can be used for activities beyond farming, such as weddings and summer camps, in order to gain more revenue. That spurred the Ordinance Committee to spend several months developing proposed ordinance language to allow such uses.

The use would have been restricted to farms of at least five acres in Rural Residential Districts 1 and 2, and would also have encompassed existing farms in the Medium Density Residential district.

A farm would have been able to hold no more than eight events a year after town approval, and events would have been capped at eight hours, excluding equipment set-up and breakdown. Amplified music would have been allowed only between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., no louder than 60 decibels at the property line, according to the proposed language.

The Town Council would have issued a business license, depending on the farm’s annual compliance with the ordinance, to provide for input and feedback from neighbors. Although that caveat was attractive to councilors, concern over impact on neighbors during the popular summertime wedding months led the council to reject the proposal, 5-2.

Councilors Shirley Storey-King and George Turner voted in favor. An amendment to cap weddings at five a year also failed.

Public comment was largely in support of the proposal, although one resident, Linda Higgins, voiced concern. While she saw the positives such a proposal could create, she told the council, “I just wish that you’d keep in mind that there are some families who would be adversely affected by the traffic.”

“We don’t own a camp, so our weekends are in our backyard,” she added. “And we would be affected.”

The council heard from a few resident farmers, such as Tom Munroe, who referred to the Comprehensive Plan’s advocacy of that operation.

“I feel that this is important to us as farmers to generate another means to make our farms work,” he said.

Munroe noted the requirements farms would have to meet to hold weddings, and said “we’re going to have to show that we can host this event in a safe and proper manner. … We have these structures in place to handle this.”

Carolyn Small noted the many historic family farms she saw upon arriving in Cumberland in 1962, “which determined the gentle, pastoral character of the town. Over the past 55 years there’s been an ever-increasing change in the identity of the town from rural and open to more urban and developed.”

Small pointed to the town’s business-friendly designation, which she suggested could go hand-in-hand with Cumberland’s farming heritage.

“Please do not dismiss this opportunity to not only encourage a new and interesting business, but to do it while preserving our rich, historical, agricultural identity,” she said. “Do we want to continue as Cumberland, Maine, or ooze into being merely Portland North?”

Turner noted Cumberland’s scenic vistas thanks to its farms preservation of open space, which “are there because people own the property and don’t choose to turn it into housing developments. So as far as I’m concerned we have the responsibility to definitely support whatever we can that’ll further the end of having boutique farms even remain.”

Although the rights of the neighbors, noise concerns, and use of alcohol at weddings had concerned him, the town’s licensing process brought him around to supporting the proposal, he added.

“There are enough regulatory checks and balances, so I think anybody who does err along the lines of allowing too much of a rowdy situation to occur at weddings undoubtedly won’t be doing them very long.”

“There’s nobody that works any harder than a farmer,” Councilor Ron Copp said. “… But the problem that I have with this (proposal), is you’re moving a commercial business into a residential neighborhood. … I just can’t put weddings and farms together.”

Town-owned land

The council on Oct. 3 heard two proposals for moderate-income, multi-generational neighborhood developments on town-owned property next to the Town Forest.

Bateman Partners proposed three options, two of which could have happened in conjunction with the developer’s ongoing Village Green Master Redevelopment Plan along Drowne Road.

Developers Collaborative calls for a blend of senior and family housing, with as many as 100 units composed of one, two or three bedrooms.

The town has yet to decide what to do with the land; Wednesday’s community meeting is meant to guide that decision. Several options are on the table: a multi-generational neighborhood, senior housing, affordable housing that is open to anyone, doing nothing, or selling the property.

Although the council could vote Nov. 13 on a developer – if development is the course residents prefer – councilors decided by informal consensus in an executive session after the Oct. 3 meeting to move forward solely with Developers Collaborative, and have that firm present at Wednesday’s meeting.

“They pretty much felt that one presentation was much stronger than the other,” Shane said, noting that in that case, it did not make sense to have both companies at that gathering.

Councilors felt it was premature to formally approve a developer, and a contract with that firm, in advance of the Oct. 25 meeting, Shane said Monday. Although he had sought a vote on a developer Monday, Oct. 23, “the council to a person felt no, it was inappropriate,” he added.

The council could ultimately decide to go with no developer at all, council Chairman Mike Edes said Monday.

Developers Collaborative proposes a senior assisted-living facility with about 50 apartments, along with an approximately 10,000-square-foot multi-generational recreation and community building, constructed in the style of a barn, and available for use by residents of the neighborhood and the greater Cumberland community.

The project would have common green space, pocket parks and community orchards and gardens, as well as a sidewalk and trail network integrating with Town Hall, the Town Forest and Drowne Road ball fields, and sidewalks planned for Tuttle Road.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.