Not all bliss for wedding barn business

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OTISFIELD —  Wedding plans are on hold while the Planning Board continues its deliberations next month into the application of a Gore Road resident to turn part of the historic 1840 Linnell Farm into a wedding barn.

Planning Board Chairman Karen Turino said the board will continue its deliberation of the plan’s adherence to the ordinance’s standards of review at its next meeting on Tuesday, May 17. The deliberation was tabled when concerns and questions from the applicant’s neighbors went on for more than an hour at the Tuesday, April 19 public hearing.

IMAPCT — Tammy Ray Webster points to a map of her property to show abutters where parking will take place should the Planning Board approve her site plan application for a wedding barn at 439 Gore Road.
IMPACT — Tammy Ray Webster points to a map of her property to show abutters where parking will take place should the Planning Board approve her site plan application for a wedding barn at 439 Gore Road.

“This is not what your neighbors envisioned,” a neighbor said to applicant Tammy Ray Webster of 439 Gore Road – the Linnell Farm – at the public hearing.

Webster took questions from more than a dozen of her neighbors ranging from the noise to traffic, saying she was trying to address each concern.

“We are your neighbors. We want to be good neighbors,” she said.

Webster told the Planning Board that her plan is to lease the smaller of the barns on the 65-acre property that would hold no more than 140 people. The events would not be held year-round, because the barn is unheated. In addition to weddings, the barn might be a place for family gatherings, anniversaries and other such functions.

Webster said she was aware the noise would be a big concern but has taken steps to reduce it by checking the “decimals” of noise within the barn. She is making sure the systems are facing the expansive valley that lies behind the wedding barn complex and even suggested that a high fence could be put up in some sections.

Neighbors also questioned the traffic issues on the road that is used as a cut through from Oxford to Route 118 in Norway, particularly on a Saturday night when the Oxford Speedway lets out.

Selectmen Chairman Hal Ferguson, who was at the public hearing, told the Advertiser Democrat later that there can be traffic problems on Gore Road. Several years ago a sign was placed on town road near the proposed wedding barn to warn people about a dangerous curve.

Webster said that her hope is to have smaller, “more refined” and rustic weddings rather than the noisy rambunctious ones that may come with younger and larger wedding parties.

“This is first and foremost our home,” said Webster, a long-time florist who has worked with many wedding parties. “We will be living there full time.”

Webster said she and partner Steve Trask have checked the decibels of music similar in loudness to what they project will occur at weddings and all sounds are well within reasonable limits.

As for traffic, she, too, has concerns about the roadway but the parking will be moved further down the street and only vendors will be allowed access to the main driveway by the wedding barn.

“We understand your concerns. They’re our concerns as well,” she said.

The issues of noise, traffic, devaluing of existing homes and other concerns are not new. There are some four other wedding/event barns are in the area and most have faced the same issues from neighbors.

Last summer, approximately 60 Norway residents packed into a large meeting room at Norway Town Office to discuss allowing owners of a rural lodge and luxury barn at 65 Delano Drive use the property to host wedding parties.

The project by Granite Ridge Estate – a 3,500-square-foot timber-framed lodge – was presented to expand its services to host weddings at the luxury on-site barn and to rent the lodge to the bridal party and other groups. The barn can hold some 200 people.

Portland-based business owner Anthony Fratianne and his family who built the complex, faced a myriad of concerns from neighbors who worried that an endless stream of cars would drive through their small private road leading to the site and that the party might overflow into the neighborhood.

Resident Karen Hill said at the time she moved to the rural location because, “I didn’t want to be on a main thoroughfare.”

Reacting to concerns, Fratianne revised original plans and reduced the number of on-site parking spots from 80 to 20.

An agreement was made for wedding guests to park off-site at the Affordable Events LLC in Harrison and at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School parking lot, from where they are transported by LA Luxury Limousine, owner Josh Tice told the Planning Board at the time.

Fratianne said this week that he believed the traffic impact was never as bad as opponents thought it would be. In fact, he said, the weddings that came after proved his arguments that the impact would be light.

“In fact, more than one neighbor expressed that they didn’t even know we started having events,” he told the Advertiser Democrat on Monday, April 25. “That’s how light the impact is. The most vocal among the opposers told me not one person in the neighborhood has any remaining issues or concerns. “
Fratianne said every property of a proposed wedding/event center is different and the Granite Ridge barn is a quarter mile from the nearest property line with a residence, and down the hill with trees buffering sound.

“The sound from in the barn is undetectable at that property line,” he said.

By all accounts their efforts to reduce neighborhood impact has worked.

While that project worked out, another more recent one did not.

Peter Ulrickson filed an application with the Norway Planning Board last fall to approve a change of use for the property. He had hoped to operate the business in a 19th century farmhouse at 107 Morse Road.

In January, Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman told the Planning Board that Ulrickson was having trouble notifying one abutter by mail, as mandated in the application process.

A large contingent of opponents presented the board with a petition signed by 81 residents in the North Norway area urging it to reject the application.

The petition signers claimed approval would result in “dangerous” additional traffic, noise that would prevent them from enjoying the “peaceful” outdoors, and decrease their property values.

While there was no reason given, Ulrickson eventually pulled out of the project.

Fratianni has said that wedding/event barns should not be viewed with suspicion by neighbors. In fact, they can bring not only jobs and money to the area, but recognition.

His venue, for example, offers the Norway Center Church for rent and a list of preferred professional services that the wedding party can select from, including local bakers, accommodations, rehearsal dinner venues, photography and so forth.

“With respect to Granite Ridge, one interesting thing to note is our frequent high-profile national recognition, putting us in the company of some of the most famous 5-star resorts in the world, as well as Yosemite National Park. This is notable for the way we’re putting Norway on the map for tens of thousands of people world wide,” he said earlier this year.

The Otisfield Planning Board is required by the site plan application to make a Findings of Fact within 45 days of the public hearing. The document must act on the application and either approve, approve with conditions, or disapprove the application. The board shall specify, in writing, its Findings of Facts, conditions, or reasons for denial.

The 12 standards range from impact on scenic view to level of noise.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net