Freeport cemetery access dispute pits family against L.L. Bean

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FREEPORT — L.L. Bean may be allowed to continue restricting access to a cemetery behind its Outdoor Discovery Center, against the wishes of relatives of those who are buried there.

The Project Review Board has scheduled a public hearing Sept. 13 to discuss whether L.L. Bean was allowed to plant over the cemetery access road when the company built the Outdoor Discovery Center two years ago.

Mann Cemetery, which has almost 170 plots, and the discovery center are on Marietta Lane off Lower Flying Point Road.

The cemetery, which is about 300 years old, is where many members of the Mann family and other early Freeport residents are buried. The last burial was in 1922. Members of the Mann family still live in Freeport, and were promised continued access to the cemetery when the discovery center was built.

Plans for the Outdoor Discovery Center were approved by the Project Review Board in September 2013, with the condition that “the final plan will show the traditional access to the Mann Cemetery.”

But when constructing the center, L.L. Bean loamed and seeded part of the access road to the cemetery. L.L. Bean spokesman Mac McKeever said the company did what was approved by the Project Review Board.

“We did loam and seed the road as directed by the originally approved site plan,” McKeever said. “It should also be noted that we worked with the abutting landowners to provide deeded access to the Mann Cemetery to ensure there is ample access to the cemetery.”

The road is still visible at the edge of the L.L. Bean property, and is accessible by foot, but vehicular traffic would require driving across the discovery center lawn.

Ken Mann, one of the few Manns still living in Freeport, helps maintain the  half-acre cemetery where many of his ancestors are buried. He said Tuesday that the situation has been upsetting to his family.

“We were quite surprised because (L.L. Bean) had promised us the road would remain, and that vehicular traffic would remain the same,” Mann said. “We were quite shocked when they graded and seeded the road and told people to stay off it.”

L.L. Bean went back to the Project Review Board on July 13, after Code Enforcement Officer Fred Reeder in May said clarification was needed about  whether the company was allowed to plant grass over the road. Town Manager Peter Joseph asked Reeder to investigate after a resident voiced concerns.

After a site walk at the discovery center and cemetery on July 13, the board discussed the issue and decided to hold the public hearing in September. Town Planner Donna Larson gave a memo to the board with two possible options, both of which would allow the action by L.L. Bean.

Under one option, the board would clarify its motion from September 2013, and say that the condition of “show(ing) traditional access” only meant showing it on a map for historical purposes and not actually retaining it.

The second option is for the board to approve a site plan amendment and remove the condition that requires traditional access to be shown.

Larson on Tuesday said either option would please L.L. Bean, but the Project Review Board is allowed to do what it wants, so it’s possible the access road could be restored.

As a result, L.L. Bean is scheduled to go before the Board of Appeals Monday, Aug. 1, to try to have the code enforcement officer’s demand overturned.

Larson said L.L. Bean plans to ask the BOA to table its appeal until after the Sept. 13 public hearing, however, so the company can hear the Project Review Board’s decision.

Once the Project Review Board rules, either L.L. Bean or the Mann Cemetery Association could take the issue to court, Larson said. The cemetery association in early July hired James Katsiaficas of Portland-based Perkins Thompson in case the association decides to pursue legal action.

Another option Ken Mann said he hopes L.L. Bean will consider is constructing a new access road. Mann has marked off a path that leads to a different point on Marietta Lane where a road could be built if some trees are cleared. Mann said the cemetery association has asked L.L. Bean if it would pay for a new road and “they didn’t say no,” but also didn’t agree.

Mann said he hopes a solution can be found that will make both parties happy.

“We’re trying to work with L.L. Bean to find an agreement that works for everyone,” Mann said. “We don’t want to interfere with their business, but we still want access to our cemetery.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Freeport resident Ken Mann maintains Mann Cemetery off Marietta Road, where many of his ancestors are buried. But access has been restricted by the abutting L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Center.

Almost 170 people are buried at Mann Cemetery, and in September the Freeport Project Review Board will determine whether L.L. Bean was allowed to restrict access to it when the company built its Outdoor Discovery Center two years ago.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.