October 25, 2013

Wells voters to consider cottages, high school renovation plan

Residents will decide if they want to eliminate the option to construct seasonal cottages along the Route 1 corridor.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Wells residents could decide Nov. 5 to put a stop to future developments of seasonal cottages after hundreds of units have popped up along Route 1 in the past decade.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer: The Cottages at Summer Village in Wells are seen in this aerial photograph on March 15, as the town of Wells considered enacting a building moratorium on lodging rooms within 1,000 feet of Route 1.

Eight months after the Board of Selectmen enacted a moratorium on new lodging units, residents will vote on two questions that could make those restrictions permanent.

One proposal would eliminate seasonal cottage and housekeeping cottage complexes as permitted uses in town. The second ordinance change would define motels as 20 or more units per building, set criteria for acreage and setbacks, and prohibit owners from living in the motel for more than 14 days in a calendar year.

“We got a number of complaints from citizens regarding the impact all of the lodging units have had on the town of Wells,” said Selectman Robert Foley. “People are happy something is finally being done to rein in the impact of these cottages on the town.”

The March enactment of a moratorium was prompted by the rapid increase of hotel rooms and seasonal cottages that has changed the face of Route 1 in the past decade. Selectmen voted Sept. 3 to extend the moratorium until Nov. 6.

Residents and town officials worry about the impact of these complexes on traffic and town services, while recognizing they also contribute to the local tax base and economy, officials say.

In the past 10 years, Wells has approved plans for 1,017 new lodging units, including 792 seasonal cottages. By the time all of those approved units are built, the town will have 3,095 lodging units, according to town officials.

This year the town will issue 2,553 lodging licenses. The year-round population of Wells is just shy of 10,000, but swells to as many as 45,000 during the peak of the summer tourist season.

The seasonal cottage communities along Route 1 feature dense clusters of cottages – roughly the size of large hotel rooms – surrounded by amenities such as swimming pools and tennis courts. Though they are used as summer homes by owners, they are regulated like hotel rooms.

Foley has called the issue a Catch-22: The town doesn’t want to discourage development or tourism, but needs to plan for the future so the growth doesn’t outpace capacity.

The proposed changes to define a motel as 20 or more units per building and limit the number of days an owner can be there stem from the way the seasonal cottages have been used in recent years. The current ordinance says a person can’t stay in a unit longer than 28 consecutive days, but people get around that by leaving for a day, Foley said.

Foley said some new developments also got around the town’s current rules by using the density allowed for a motel – 20 units per acre – but split them between many buildings. The units are then sold like condos.

Residents also will vote on a proposed $26.85 million high school renovation project school officials say is needed to ensure the school keeps its accreditation and meets current state standards. The project will be entirely locally funded.

School officials say problems at the high school include crowded classrooms that do not meet state standards or support project-based learning; undersized library and student collaboration areas; limited handicap accessibility; and mechanical, plumbing and technology systems that need to be replaced.

Construction would start in the spring, with an anticipated completion date of September 2016. The new addition would be complete by December 2015.

 

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham @mainetoday.com

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