BRIDGTON — More than a year after developer Justin McIver proposed a hotel and conference center in downtown Bridgton, the project has inched forward and continues to divide residents.

McIver of Maine Eco Homes has proprosed a 68-room hotel and a 175-person conference center located on the Saunders Mill site, as well as two adjacent parcels, on Bacon and Kennard streets.

Some residents are upset about the hotel’s location, size and impact on the surrounding area while others say it is exactly what the town needs and the location is perfect.

McIver’s application was ruled incomplete by the Planning Board in March 2018, a decision it later revoked in April. A site walk of the location was held in April. Two public hearings about the project were held in December 2018 and January 2019.

Nearly everyone agrees that Bridgton needs a hotel, but some residents feel strongly that it should be located elsewhere.

“Bridgton needs a hotel,” said Betty Hathaway, whose home abuts the property, “but Bridgton doesn’t need it there.”

Residents have other concerns about the project, as well, including that it is too large for the 2.58-acre lot and not harmonious with the surrounding residential homes.

Abutter Tom Smith calls it “stuffing 10 pounds in a 5-pound bag.”

“The project is too large for the proposed location,” agreed Doug Oakley, a Planning Board member who was recused from voting on this proposal because he openly opposed the project, as a resident, when it was first proposed.

Cape Elizabeth Attorney David Lourie, who specializes in municipal law, was hired by a concerned citizens group, Save Kennard Street, to represent them. He agrees the proposed hotel is too big.

“I think that the developer needs to understand that he’s trying to do too much with too little. He really hasn’t got that much property to do what he wants to do,” Lourie said.

McIver has reduced the size of the building footprint, the capacity of the banquet center and the height of the building from 47 feet to 35 feet.

Residents are also concerned about the project’s proximity to nearby Stevens Brook, noise and the impact on traffic.

Smith objects “to the traffic this is going to cause, traffic to an already overloaded area.”

“The parking is going to be very difficult,” Hathaway said, and when there is “a function, it’s going to twice as bad, it’s going to be loud.”

Another concern is the sale of the small property abutting the Saunders Mill site, known as the log yard. The parcel was sold to McIver for $20,000 in July 2017, although some residents believe it was done improperly.

“Everything was done legally. Anybody could have gone and done that,” McIver said.

Bridgton Town Manager Bob Peabody says the sale “happened as it was supposed to” through a sealed bid. The sale was discussed at the April 11, 2017, Selectboard meeting.

McIver believes that the project “is good for Bridgton” and wants the hotel to tell a story about the town through local artwork and historic architecture.

McIver’s Maine Eco Homes has built a variety of homes in Bridgton as well as NAHGA’s office building on Main Street and Carry-All Corner, a two-story mixed-use building.

He hired PKF Consulting, a hotel consulting service, in 2014 to conduct a feasibility study for the project and said the hotel’s size and location are based on those recommendations.

“It’ll be way more successful and beneficial to the community in the downtown where people can walk to all the shops and restaurants” than on Route 302, he explained.

McIver does not believe traffic will be an issue, per the traffic study that was conducted by Diane Morabito, vice president of traffic engineering at James W. Sewall Co. The study was conducted April 3-4. Bridgton’s busiest season is summer.

“I know 100 percent that this is good for Bridgton. I would not do something to hurt Bridgton. This is something our community needs so bad,” McIver said.

Many residents agree.

“I feel that it is so important to do what can be done for keeping the downtown village alive, and I feel that the hotel would be a big asset in town,” said Judith Evergreen, the owner of Craftworks.

“I think it’s a superb location, actually. I feel that the size is probably what has to be done to make it economically viable,” she continued.

“In my heart, I know this is a good thing for the town,” added Carole Goodman, a real estate agent. “I’m looking out for the town. We need it. Our town needs to grow and do it in a tasteful manner.”

Goodman said she has not seen such a divisive issue in town since the local McDonald’s opened in late 2012.

Contention between residents will continue, as McIver has not received preliminary approval for the project. A public hearing about the hotel scheduled for March 7 has been postponed.

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at [email protected]

The site of the proposed hotel in Bridgton.

A model of the proposed hotel in the Bacon and Kennard streets neighborhood in Bridgton. Main Street is at the top of the photo.

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