Traffic concerns delay decision on Harpswell event venue

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HARPSWELL — Facing pressure from abutters, the Planning Board tabled its approval of a seasonal, commercial event venue on Harpswell Neck Road Wednesday to give the applicants time to reach a compromise over how guests will enter and park.

The venue being proposed by applicants Sylvia Wiley and Chris Muth wouldn’t be the first of its kind on the road, or Route 123: nearby Live Well Farm hosts functions of a similar scale, the board noted, but isn’t accessed by a private road that provides residential access.

On Wednesday night, the applicants were asked to propose an option when they return to the board next month that will satisfy neighbors’ concerns about traffic. 

The proposed open-space venue is east of Randall Road, a dirt drives that bisects the property. It received blow-back from an abutter who feared the dirt drive wouldn’t be able to handle the traffic from as many as 100 cars arriving for events, weddings, and parties. 

The couple said they want to rent the property to generate an additional revenue stream to maintain it as an open space; the 7-acre field has sweeping views of the ocean and the Cribstone Bridge across the harbor.

Wiley, who lives with Muth at 1480 Harpswell Neck Road, told the board she has already spoken to neighbors – a group of which sent letters to the town voicing their concerns – about mitigating potential noise and disruption.

But parking was the major issue Wednesday night, prolonging the meeting attended by about 15 people by nearly 2 1/2 hours.

Not all neighbors had a problem with the couple’s proposal to let guests turn left on Randall Road and then park on the right side of the field, and the board questioned whether it would be equally unsafe to allow cars to cause congestion on Harpswell Neck Road, or Route 123.

Abutter Ronan Wolfsdorf, who lives at the end of Randall Road, said he feared the traffic would prevent rescue vehicles from accessing events as they took place. He argued the application did not meet zoning specifications that require Randall Road be able to absorb the amount of proposed traffic, although the board wasn’t persuaded.

Abutter Bill O’Connell disagreed. “I don’t think it’ll be an issue,” he said, noting that residents on the road were split evenly in their opposition and support of the project.

On the other hand, were concerned that by asking Wiley and Muth to create an alternative entrance off Harpswell Neck Road, a state road, the couple might be in violation of a state-issued permit.

Town Planner Mark Eyerman recommended the couple hire the town’s engineer to review the site and clear up uncertainty over which entrance is safer. He said the pros and cons are “six of one, half dozen of the other.”

The board tabled the application to give Wiley and Muth time to contemplate all of their options, one of which might be making Randall Road wider.

But the board liked most other aspects of the proposal, since it meets base land-use ordinance requirements.

The application includes a list of self-imposed restrictions that will limit the use of the site more tightly than is mandated by the local ordinance, including requiring guests to leave by dusk and playing only certain kinds of music.

Wiley said her intention is to only book “mature” clientele, in an effort to avoid rowdy parties.

No structures are proposed for development, although Wiley said she will purchase a “super-quiet” generator for clients to use.

Keith Erlich, who organized his neighbors to question early versions of the proposal, said he consulted with Wiley on the use limitations.

Still, he pushed to mandate more specific guidelines as a condition of approval; for example, defining the number of months of operation, and creating a thresh-hold of guests that would require a police officer on site.

However, Chairman Allan Legrow told him it was outside of the board’s jurisdiction to compel the applicants to restrict themselves in ways tighter than what is specified in the ordinance.

 Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

A proposal to allow commercial events on a field east of Randall Road along Harpswell Neck Road in Harpswell faced opposition at the Planning Board Aug. 16 from neighbors concerned about traffic and parking.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.