October 4, 2013

L.L. Bean, neighbors tussle over growing paddling center

Some Freeport residents are questioning expansion in the Flying Point area.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FREEPORT — The town of Freeport has given L.L. Bean the green light to build a 7,200-square-foot lodge for its paddling center in the Flying Point neighborhood, but some residents have raised questions about the size of the structure and whether the company has bigger plans for the future.

click image to enlarge

L.L. Bean offers instruction and tours in kayaks and on stand-up paddle boards – among more than a dozen activities at its Outdoor Discovery school in Freeport.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

“I feel like its opening the door to heaven knows what,” said Phoebe Prosky, who lives next to L.L. Bean’s 30-acre property.

Prosky said that when it comes to Freeport town planning, L.L. Bean is “too big to fail.”

“We’d like to see the town (be) more watchful,” Prosky said.

L.L. Bean said this week it made every effort to reach out to neighbors and be up-front with its plans, and is working with them to address concerns about the site layout and environmental impact of the construction.

“We’ve tried to be open, we’ve tried to maintain that dialogue, and we’ve also tried to be compatible with the neighborhood,” said L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem, “If people feel they were misled, that was certainly not the intent.”

Indeed, some residents say L.L. Bean has been a good neighbor and takes meticulous care of its properties.

But for others, questions remain about how and why the town approved the structure in September, and if L.L. Bean will continue to expand at the site.

If permitting goes smoothly, construction could start before the end of the year and the building could be ready for use by spring of 2014.

Since shortly after purchasing the wooded 29.8-acre waterfront property in 2003, L.L. Bean has used the site to offer instruction and tours in kayaks and on stand-up paddle boards – among more than a dozen activities.

Beem said the Outdoor Discovery School is expected to grow, but not at Flying Point. Last year, about 27,000 people participated in programs, with 2,600 at the Flying Point location.

The paddling program began after the purchase in 2004, when L.L. Bean obtained a permit to change the use of property from a campground to an outdoor recreation school, which would have limited any buildings there to 5,000 square feet.

In May 2008, the company received another change of use permit from the town, adding outdoor commercial recreation and camping to its allowed uses.

The company constructed an outdoor picnic pavilion in 2012. Some residents said at that time Bean said it had no further plans for development at the site. Then, earlier this year, the company started a summer camp for kids to teach paddling skills – all allowed uses under the ordinance and zoning.

The 7,200-square-foot lodge will replace a few existing buildings and will include indoor showers, lockers, storage, a multipurpose area and offices.

At a September meeting where L.L. Bean received preliminary approval to build the structure, residents questioned the classification of the development.

The town’s project review board, in an unusual move, determined that the building would be considered an accessory structure to the outdoor commercial recreation use.

According to the town ordinance that creates the seven-member board, it “shall not consider use” – traditionally the purview of the planning board or the town staff.

“Folks are concerned that the town officials are not following the law, and a building this size is not an accessory use, it’s a use all its own,” said Lucy Lloyd, a Flying Point resident.

When the project reached the planning review board, Chair Cliff Goodall, attempted to make a unilateral ruling that the building would be considered an accessory structure to the commercial outdoor recreation, before residents objected. The board eventually voted 3-2 to accept the accessory use interpretation.

 

Matt Byrne can be reached at 791-6303 or:

mbyrne@pressherald.com.

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