BRIDGTON – The space kitty-corner from Hannaford is an unobtrusive lot, not obviously different from the other wooded, undeveloped parcels that dot this stretch of Route 302.

But the Golden Arches may rise from this property before long. The prospect of McDonald’s building on the site has generated a buzz about what that may mean for the town’s future.

“I hope that they don’t bring it in because it’s going to end up looking like North Windham: the nondescript strip mall, no-character New England-type place,” said Rose Johnson of Casco, who runs EFG Books and Gallery on Main Street, a half-mile from the proposed McDonald’s site.

In the past several years, a Hannaford, a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Family Dollar opened on the section of Route 302 known as Portland Road. The street is sprinkled with a hodgepodge of businesses — restaurants, boat and RV storage, a motel, a car dealership and plumbers, to name a few — as well as the occasional house. Route 302 becomes Main Street — a more pedestrian-oriented area with galleries and antique shops — when the road turns left.

While some share Johnson’s perspective, others see the chain as an opportunity.

Scott Miller, a resident who works nearby, said he welcomes McDonald’s — so long as it’s built in an attractive colonial style with clapboard and dormers.

“It’s jobs for the kids. It’s good for the economy. It’s tax dollars for the town,” he said.

Dennis McIver, owner of D.M. Electric & Sons on Portland Road, said the floodgates opened with Hannaford and that if it wasn’t McDonald’s coming in, it would be someone else.

“If you wanted to open a business in Bridgton here, why would I not want you to?” he asked.

Alan Manoian, the town’s community and economic development director, has been hearing objections from part-time residents with vacation homes in Bridgton, retirees settling in town and those worried about the impact of chains on local business.

Some tell Manoian that the town should not allow a McDonald’s, unaware that Bridgton has no zoning to govern land use. The town adopted zoning in 1971 before repealing it in 1977.

The town does require site plan review by its elected Planning Board. This review addresses issues like the physical characteristics of the building and internal traffic circulation. It’s a process Manoian characterized as “not onerous.”

The developer for McDonald’s, Mark Lopez, has not submitted his application yet.

Lopez declined to comment on the project Wednesday except to say that McDonald’s has told him the restaurant will result in 40 jobs and have an annual payroll of $350,000.

The McDonald’s situation in Bridgton is just the latest example of Maine communities worrying about big chains in their midst.

In Portland, a zoning change that limited high-traffic businesses in some parts of the city killed prospects for a Dunkin’ Donuts in Deering Center in 2006. Walmart stirred controversy in the midcoast that year as Damariscotta and Newcastle adopted size caps and Nobleboro approved a moratorium to keep the retailer out.

And decades ago, Freeport imposed strict design review ordinances that regulated the exterior and overall appearance of a downtown McDonald’s.

Manoian believes the McDonald’s project represents a crossroads. It can set the standard for development in Bridgton for the next 20 years and prove a tipping point for chain businesses, he said.

“I call them fertility drugs for cars. In other words, it becomes a positive feedback loop” he said.

Robert Reddy Sr. is a resident who sees shades of North Windham developing in Bridgton.

“It’s going to congest the area more,” he said of the McDonald’s.

Even though she once bought an early-morning coffee there before a run, Jenny Freeman believes it’s a shame that Dunkin’ Donuts is in town. The resident of Melrose, Mass., knows Bridgton from visits to her in-laws’ cottage on Woods Pond and doesn’t want to see a McDonald’s or other aspects of suburban strip malls join it.

“We come to Bridgton to get away from all that,” she said.

Her 8-year-old son Theo Bookman is another story. He enjoys his trips to McDonald’s, which his mother concedes take place occasionally when on the road.

“The food tastes good!” he declared. “I like everything.”

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

[email protected]


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