March 18, 2013

Wells considers drawing the line on lodging

Some propose a moratorium on new units to give the town time to develop a growth plan

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WELLS - How many hotel rooms is too many?

Today's poll: Wells lodging units

Should Wells pass a moratorium limiting new lodging units along Route 1?

Yes

No

View Results

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Barefoot Cottage Homes, well under construction in Wells, is among the many lodging developments that garnered town approval during the past decade but now have officials wondering if a moratorium on such projects is long overdue.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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The Cottages at Summer Village are among the large lodging developments that pose a dilemma for the town of Wells, bringing in needed property tax revenue but stressing local services and adding to traffic congestion on Route 1.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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THAT’S A LOT OF NEW LODGING

Route 1 area lodging unit complexes approved since 2003

Beach Dreams: 216 cottages, 5 hotel rooms

SeaGlass Village: 175 cottages, 29 hotel rooms

Summer Village: 247 cottages

Barefoot Cottages: 68 hotel rooms

Ocean Mist: 77 cottages

Hampton Inn: 87 hotel rooms

Harbor Woods: 7 cottages (never built)

Seagull: 55 cottages, 12 hotel rooms

Cottages Mill Farm: 15 cottages (never built)

Compass Point: 24 hotel rooms (pre-construction)

That is the question leaders of this beach town are grappling with as they consider a moratorium on new lodging units along the busy Route 1 corridor. The proposed moratorium, prompted by the rapid increase of hotel rooms and seasonal cottages that have changed the face of Route 1 in the past decade, would allow town officials time to develop a plan to better manage growth along the town's busiest stretch of road.

It's an especially tricky move for the York County community of Wells, which is known for its strip of hotels, motels and cottages catering to tourists who flock to southern Maine's sandy beaches. In the past 10 years, new hotels and groups of cottages have been built on former farmland and on lots squeezed between existing buildings.

Robert Foley, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, calls it a Catch-22: Town officials don't want to discourage development or tourism, but need to take a step back and plan for the future.

"We want to continue to be an attractive destination, but if you outpace capacity, you make it a negative experience," he said.

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 2,653 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 type of lodging units built in town has evolved in recent years. Instead of traditional hotels, developers more frequently are seeking approval for seasonal cottage communities. These communities feature dense clusters of cottages -- roughly the size of a large hotel room -- surrounded by amenities like swimming pools and tennis courts. They are, said Town Manger Jonathan Carter, "their own little communities."

The developments also are a new twist on small cottages along Route 1 that were traditionally used by travelers for shorter stays, Carter said.

"Now you own the bungalow, which is 600 square feet. It becomes your summer home, but it's still regulated as a lodging facility," he said. "They have sprouted up as a new industry over the past decade."

Carter said seasonal units like the small cottages add to the town's tax base, but at the same time create a problem for the code enforcement staff because it is "very time consuming" to inspect them all. The cottages -- generally open for six months starting May 1 -- range in price from about $165,000 to $189,900 at the Cottages at Summer Village, the largest seasonal development in town with 247 cottages. Cottages at that development rent for up to $1,735 per week.

Foley said now is a good time to look at a new ordinance because there are no plans for lodging units pending before the Planning Board. He said he has received many phone calls from residents who are concerned about the pace of development and want selectmen to look into the issue.

"It's time we really take a look at how many rooms we can handle," Foley said.

There are several issues that arise from the increase in lodging units, including stress on local roads, beaches and emergency services, Foley said.

The beach, arguably the biggest draw for tourists, is increasingly crowded as buses and trolleys drop people off for the day. He said town officials want to take a look at what effect those large numbers are having on the beach.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Wells lodging units

Should Wells pass a moratorium limiting new lodging units along Route 1?

Yes

No

View Results