Falmouth board deals blow to plan for ‘gourmet getaway’

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FALMOUTH — The Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday denied a request to turn a Woodville Road mansion into a venue for cooking classes and retreats.

The vote against conditional use was 3-2, with board member Wendy Paradis and alternate board member Erin Mancini in the minority. Board member Tim Nolan was absent.

The home in question, the Mirabelle mansion at 200 Woodville Road, is owned by Marc Christensen, a former neurosurgeon. He also has an application into the town to turn the home into a bed and breakfast, which will be taken up by the BZA at a later date. He said he has received state approval to operate a bed and breakfast.

Christensen said occasionally, people attending the cooking classes might also stay at the bed and breakfast.

Christensen can appeal Tuesday’s decision to the town’s Code Enforcement Officer, Justin Brown.

This is not the first hurdle Christensen has faced in turning the mansion into a business.

In September, it was determined that the 12,000-square-foot estate, built in the early 1990s as a home for the vice president of Shaw’s supermarkets, did not have the necessary permits to operate as an events venue.

Christensen bought the property less than two years ago, with the ambition to turn it into a bed and breakfast that also hosts other events, including weddings and what one report called a “gourmet getaway for well-heeled urbanites.” He said that weddings were later dropped from the business plan.

“I want to use the existing kitchen space for cooking classes with local chefs,” Christensen said, as well as occasionally for regional chefs.

He said classes would be limited to 10 to 12 people at a time, and would run only a few times a week.

Christensen said he would maintain ownership of the property, and his business partner, Amanda Howland, would handle the day-to-day operations.

But that’s where the board took issue.

According to the home occupation provision of the town ordinance, a home business must be carried out “primarily by a member or members of the family residing in the dwelling unit.” Additionally, not more than two people other than family members residing in the house may be employed on the premise.

“My concern is this is a bigger operation than it’s being conveyed as,” board member Stan Given said, adding he didn’t see how it could be carried out with only two additional people.

Several neighbors also expressed opposition to the plans. More than half a dozen voiced complaints about traffic, noise, and how such a business would fit with the area.

Peggy Cianchette, who lives next door to the home, said she is concerned that the customers who would come to the cooking classes would find fault and complain about her farming operation.

“Our concern is this will fall back to us to move our operations around,” she told the board.

Jed Harris, who lives across the street, said he is concerned about the level of traffic and noise.

“This is not a good fit for (the farm and forest zone),” he said.

Christensen said the house is very private, so the business would not have any meaningful impact on the neighbors.

“I don’t plan on impacting anyone else’s life,” he said.

Board members expressed little concern over issues of traffic and parking, saying the road already experiences traffic, and traffic generated by this venture likely wouldn’t be significant. Additionally, parking would be contained within the property and not on the street.

Paradis said since there is a farm with tractors and manure adjacent to the home, she doubted any noise or smells coming from the Mirabelle mansion would be any worse.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

The Falmouth Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday, Oct. 27, denied a request to allow cooking classes at the Mirabelle mansion on Woodville Road.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.