2018-07-12 / Neighbors

Mini golf proposed for former rest area

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — On its third attempt to sell off the old Route 1 rest area on the south side of town, Kennebunk might finally score a hole-in-one.

On June 27, town officials opened the one application submitted in response to a request for proposal (RFP) issued in late May. That development plan, for an 18-hole miniature golf course, was turned in by Tim and Beth Fossett, owners of The Lighthouse, a lighting fixture shop located adjacent to the rest area, at 88 York St.

“We just thought it was something the town could use,” Fossett said on Monday, from his store. “We’ve been, as a family, with our 6-year-old to Wonder Mountain Fun Park in Wells, and that place is always packed.

“I don’t think this is something that we’re going to become multi-millionaires running, but it seemed like this would be a good business for the town,” Fossett said. “It just seems to us like a lot of development in this town recently has been targeted toward extremely wealthy vacationers.

“This is something we’d expect to be targeted to local working families, as well as to regular folks who may be staying at the area campgrounds, as opposed to some $500-a-night place in Dock Square. That’s huge for us. Once you have your own family, as we do with our daughter, you realize how important it is to have quality family time.”

The proposal has a few hurdles to clear, however, especially to make a summer 2019 grand opening.

Voters agreed to sell the 14.3-acre parcel way back in June 2014, by a convincing vote of 1,708-545. The site had been closed for several years, used by the town only as a snow dump in for road crews during winter clean up operations.

The area is not zoned for an entertainment use such as a mini golf course. In fact, a mini golf course is not currently allowed anywhere in town. To make the project work, voters would have to agree to create a special contract zone for the property.

That vote could come as soon as November, although town officials will have to really work overtime to make that happen.

Town Clerk Merton Brown has often cited mid-September as the drop-dead for signing the warrant in time to have absentee ballots ready in the state-mandated time frame, 45 days before the election. And before that happens, a zoning change proposal will require a public hearing before the planning board, as well as first and second readings under the gavel of selectmen. But the selectboard only meets once per month during the summer.

The town’s interim economic development director, Jim Black, said Monday that he is working to evaluate the Fossett proposal with Town Manager Mike Pardue and Town Engineer Chris Osterrieder. He’s hopeful, he said Monday, of getting the project before selectmen at their Aug. 14 meeting. For there, all the pieces will have to fall into place exactly in order to make the November ballot, he acknowledged.

Black said one option — rather than waiting until June, if the November deadline is missed — might be to hold a special town meeting sometime during the winter to authorize the new contract zone.

That, he said, would allow the Fossetts to begin work in the spring. And, more importantly, he said, it would get the property on the tax rolls that much sooner.

As part of the RFP, a property valuation was done, which pegged the property at a fair market value of $200,000, Black said. The Fossetts have offered $115,000.

Much of the area is wetlands, with at least one vernal pool designated and numbered by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Carving out that area leaves as little as 5 acres that’s actually buildable, Black said, noting that any development must receive approval from DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the town.

“But this proposal is for a relatively low-impact use that can actually wind around the protected pools,” Black said. “I personally think it’s a very good idea for the property.”

Under Black’s predecessor, Mat Eddy, the town faced challenges trying to unload the property following the 2014 vote.

The town also drew a single response to an RFP in August 2015. That submission, from Wells developer Howard Hall, reportedly offered $175,000 and envisioned residential units. However, the town’s economic development committee rejected the offer as inappropriate to the site, preferring some type of business use.

“The project was not awarded, based on the proposed use that was submitted, which did not meet the desired goals of the economic development committee,” wrote Barry Tibbetts, town manager at the time, in a memo to selectmen.

A new RFP was issued, drawing multiple bids and, at a March 8, 2016 meeting, selectmen agreed to sell the lot to Benjamin Meggs of Wells. Meggs also offered $115,000, announcing plans for a 20,000-square-foot building dedicated to the boat-building trade, specifically carbon fiber hulls.

By the time Black took over for Eddy, the project had still not materialized and Black found himself forced to try and extricate the town from the purchase and sale agreement signed.

“The developer was unable to fulfil his obligations under the contract to come up with a viable plan,” Black said on Monday, adding that the town did refund a portion of Meggs’ down payment.

Black said he reached out to Hall and several others who have expressed interest in the site in the past. More than a dozen people downloaded the RFP off the town’s website. Given that interest, Black admitted to being “somewhat disappointed” that only one proposal was turned in.

Still, he said, “I think this will be a good use.”

“These folks may not have any direct experience in this kind of thing, but they do appear to have some good resources,” Black said.

According to Fossett, he has contracted South Portland engineering firm Sebago Technics, as well as New Jersey firm Harris Miniature Golf Courses, Inc., to design and build the site, if selectmen give the initial nod.

“There are about five companies in the country that build these things and Harris is the big dog,” Fossett said. “And the person we are working with a Sebago, one of their principal engineers over there, he does about 90 percent of his work in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. So, he’s the best guy for something like this.

“We haven’t figured out yet exactly how to lay it all out, but the great thing with a development like this is that we don’t have to build it all in a tight circle or a square. We can snake it around, out and then back, around the vernal pools,” Fossett said. “We live here in town. We’ve owned our business for almost 12 years and Beth’s parents owned it before that, opening it in 1972. So, we want this area to be nice. We don’t what anything crummy to go in here. But we’re not going to do anything that’s going to be detrimental to the town.”

The new mini-golf course could be paired with another use, such as an ice cream parlor or snack shack, Fossett said. Even without that, the Fossetts expect to hire half a dozen seasonal workers, at least.

“We’d like to open for 2019, but if it has to be 2020, we’re patient if it means doing it right,” Fossett said. “But ultimately, I think this something people will really like. So, practice your putting and get ready to have some fun.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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