Falmouth approves Woodville Road mansion for University of Maine functions

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FALMOUTH — A 15,000-square-foot mansion on Woodville Road that has been unused for years may soon be open for University of Maine functions.

The lavish home and five acres of land that at one time belonged to Shaw’s Supermarkets heiress Mary Alice Davis, now of Phoenix, Ariz., was donated to the University of Maine Foundation by Eric Cianchette in December 2006, two years after he purchased the 1990s mansion, along with 160 acres of adjoining property, for $4.5 million. The donation, valued at $4.2 million, was the largest one-time gift the foundation has ever received from an individual or family.

Since that time, the mansion has remained unused, with the foundation and the town at odds over approved uses for the property. According to Amos Orcutt, president and chief executive of the foundation, the school sought to open the building for functions and meetings, but the town said the property would require rezoning or a contract zone.

But the Zoning Board of Appeals recently granted the foundation a conditional use permit to operate as a private club, Town Manager Nathan Poore said, clearing the way for the foundation to use the property for school functions, pending a site plan review by the Planning Board.

The foundation must submit a parking plan for the review, Orcutt said. Dan Willett, planned giving officer for the foundation, has been working on the parking design, which must demonstrate the ability to park at least 40 cars along the 700-foot driveway. In addition, there is room for at least another 15 or 20 cars near the garage on an existing gravel surface, Orcutt said.

Even with Planning Board approval, functions at the mansion may be delayed while contractors try to find and repair a leak in the kitchen and dining room radiant heating system – a system installed in the floors throughout the house, Orcutt said.

Though Orcutt said the foundation has offered use of the mansion to the town and the Falmouth School Department, the mansion’s classification as a private club will preclude the town from using it, Poore said.

“The more public you make it, you start to get into modifications to the building,” the town manager said, including exit signs and specific alterations to provide access for disabled people.

While Willett predicted the foundation would have its Planning Board approval in the next two to three weeks, Poore estimated the process would take up to two months.

Asked if the property, which is still referred to by many as the Davis mansion, would have a new name, Willett said, “We always call it the Cianchette Center.”

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.