SACO – Plans for a large horse barn and a riding arena in a rural part of Saco have been halted by the city’s building height restrictions and by opposition from neighbors concerned about the placement of the building.
On Monday, the City Council will hold a workshop on a proposed zoning change that would increase the height limit for barns in some areas of the city, but that change could still keep Beth Austin from building a 19,440-square-foot barn and riding arena on her farm on Louden Road.
Meanwhile, two of Austin’s neighbors, Mark and Lee Duranceau, are fighting the proposed changes because of their concerns about the size of the building and its placement 46 feet from their property line.
The Dureanceaus fear that the barn, separated from their yard by a thin stand of trees, would block their scenic view and hurt their property value. They say they want Austin to have her barn but believe it could be built in a different location to minimize the impact on their property.
“You have a nice pastoral setting you’ve been living in for 21 years, then wake up in an industrial park,” Mark Duranceau said of the prospect of a riding arena next door. “That’s a shocker.”
Austin, whose 19-acre parcel is at 121 Louden Road, received Planning Board approval in June to build a horse barn and riding arena. City documents show that Austin wants the arena for personal use.
City Planner Bob Hamblen said the site plan listed the maximum building height allowed in that area as 35 feet. During site plan review, the Planning Board was told the eaves of the barn would be about 18 feet high, “so the approval assumed a structure of 35 feet or less in height,” he said.
When Austin’s builder tried to get a building permit, Code Enforcement Officer Dick Lambert realized that the steel-framed barn would be 41 feet tall, so the permit was not granted.
Austin sought a 6-foot variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, but that request was denied.
Austin has already started work on the foundation and ordered the barn, which cannot be altered, she told city officials.
The proposed zoning change would increase the height limit for barns from 35 feet to 50 feet in three zones of the city where public riding stables are a conditional use, including the area of Louden Road.
The amendment recommended by the Planning Board also would require setbacks from property lines based on the height of a barn: 50 feet for barns 35 to 40 feet tall, 75 feet for barns 41 to 45 feet tall, and 100 feet for barns 46 to 50 feet tall.
If the City Council does change the height restriction along with setbacks, Austin’s proposed barn would not meet the setback requirement of 75 feet, Hamblen said.
The city has received letters from Austin and her supporters urging officials to support amending the height restriction to 50 feet, he said.
“It’s kind of a classic example of a couple of neighbors disagreeing on what’s acceptable and not acceptable out in the countryside of Saco,” Hamblen said.
Austin did not respond to requests for comment. In a letter to the Planning Board in November, she said the shortest the barn can be is 41 feet because of the need for interior clearance for riders and the pitch of the roof.
She said she supports the amendment “because I think it is a positive thing for the city to support the preservation and growth of agricultural uses.”
The Duranceaus said the situation has been difficult, especially as it strains normally friendly relationships with neighbors. They hired a lawyer to guide them through the process because they have never dealt with this, Lee Duranceau said.
“I just want to protect what I have. To have this go away is a loss,” she said, gesturing out her kitchen window to the sun setting over pastures. “We’re not the bad guy. (Austin) isn’t the bad guy. It’s just a bad situation.”
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: