PORTLAND — A plan by former Buxton restaurateur Alex Wight to turn the general store on Great Diamond Island into a restaurant has received mixed reviews from island residents.
The Planning Board scheduled a hearing and vote Tuesday on the change-of-use request by Wight and her partner, Gail Landry. They are seeking permission to open the 35-seat restaurant while downsizing the general store now operating at the island’s Fort McKinley historic site. The building is also part of the Diamond Cove Association.
Wight owned and operated Flanagan’s Table, a Buxton restaurant on 66 acres that served 50 meals per month, all prepared by a rotating roster of Portland chefs, according to the application prepared by engineer Steven Blais. A portion of proceeds from the meals was donated to area charities.
“Alex hopes to reopen the existing general store as a casual sit-down restaurant —the menu showcasing as much Maine product as is possible,” Blais said.
Wight and Landry plan to serve meals on disposable plates with disposable tableware, and the tableware will be 95 percent compostable, according to a Planning Department memo.
The general store would be shifted to an area that was used as a day spa, Blais added, and still sell “ice cream, penny candy, beer and wine, breakfast pastries, newspapers, coffee, sandwiches and fundamental provisions.”
The conversion is expected to cost about $340,000.
To open the restaurant, the applicants need a change of use from the current retail status, which allows only nine seats for meal service. Because of rules governing the IR-3 zone containing the general store, the Planning Board must review and approve all requested use changes.
The board must consider the restaurant’s impact on island traffic flow, as well as its discharges of wastewater. Discharges exceeding 370 gallons per day would require a license modification from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, but flows are estimated to be at 341 gallons per day based on eight employees and 35 seats.
Reaction to Wight and Landry’s plans has been mixed, based on emails to planning staff and board members.
The Diamond Cove Association has taken no official stance, but board members David Witting and Jim Doyle presented contrasting opinions of their own to the city.
In a Feb. 23 email, Witting expressed concern about the potential added costs of foot traffic at the restaurant, solid waste removal, and monitoring the wastewater flow. He added Wight and Landry would also be getting reduced fees from the association in comparison to the two restaurants on the island.
Witting asked Planning Board members to hold off on granting the change of use until “the owners have come to an agreement with all interested parties on how they will work within the existing wastewater allocation limits and contribute additional association fees to match this desired change of use.”
Doyle said the restaurant could be an “exciting” addition to the island, while noting the larger general store may not have been economically viable.
“I, like many others on our island, would love to see the general store we had last forever,” he said. “But I am hopeful that this proposed change of use will allow us to keep a more modest store while providing an opportunity for that to be sustained over the long term.”