BELFAST - Maine Maritime Products processes and distributes seafood from a facility in the Belfast Business Park. The company also sells steamed lobsters and other fresh and frozen seafood from a small retail shop on the premises. In October, company president George Delaney approached the city planning office about what he thought was a minor addition to the business. As he described to the City Council on Tuesday night, he just wanted to take what he was already selling, “put it in a bun, fry some clams and have people take it out.”
So far the answer has been no. Restaurants are prohibited under the the Business Park’s zoning regulations, and on this basis City Planner Wayne Marshall and Code Enforcement Officer Tod Rosenberg initially nixed the idea. But the Planning Board subsequently gave a majority ruling in favor of it, and on Tuesday the City Council also supported an amendment that would allow Delaney to move on his plan.
Delaney disputed the idea that selling takeout is the same as running a restaurant and said the shift was an attempt to adapt to the uncertainties of the seafood business.
“We’re in pure survival mode,” he said. “We’re constantly trying to find new ways to evolve.”
Delaney said his company already sells wholesale to restaurants and he has not interest in being in that business. He argued that takeout is different, but Marshall disagreed.
“If Maine Maritime Products puts on their leader board ‘Lobster Roll $9.99 or Basket of Shrimp $11.99,’ that’s a restaurant,” he said.
Marshall said he generally holds reservations about opening the door to restaurants in the Business Park, but if the Council approved of Delaney’s idea, the zoning should be changed accordingly.
“Terms are very important to the Planning Board,” Marshall said. “A restaurant is a restaurant.”
The matter was complicated somewhat by the fact that the building occupied by MMP was not originally part of the business park. Young’s Shellfish sold prepared seafood from that location and at one time had a direct access drive onto Route 1. The entrance was removed when the property was incorporated into the Business Park. Marshall, however, saw this history as a potential justification for granting MMP an exception.
However, he cautioned that changing the rules for the whole Business Park could increase traffic at the already dangerous intersection of Route 1 and Congress Street and would generally go against the intent of the park, where the city has offered lots at cut rates for businesses that don’t need public visibility.
“Do you want to change the basic nature of the park?” he asked the Council.
Several councilors thought the rules could be modified without causing a major upheaval.
Councilor Mike Hurley acknowledged that new precedents could always be argued as leading to the most extreme outcome, but he doubted Delaney’s proposal would trigger a sea change at the Business Park.
Councilor Roger Lee saw a slippery-slope scenario presented by Marshall, in which Easterly Wine and salmon processor Ducktrap River of Maine, both located in the Business Park, served their products on site actually sounded pretty good.
He gave the example of beer makers located in industrial areas of other cities that offer tours and sometimes have a restaurant on site. Councilor Mike Hurley and Mayor Walter Ash also saw an evolution of the Business Park that included prepared food as a potentially positive development.
“I look at that sign,” Ash said, gesturing to the back of the Council Chambers where a token of the state’s designation last year of Belfast as a business friendly community hung on the wall. “We’re business friendly … I don’t see an issue here.”
Lee asked if changing the zoning would allow a franchise restaurant like Applebee’s to open in the Business Park, but Marshall said food service have to be an accessory use — an offshoot of a business that was primarily non-retail, like food processing or distribution.
The Council directed Marshall to draft an amendment to the zoning ordinance to this effect. Marshall suggested a special case exemption for MMP, but the Council favored an amendment that included all businesses in the Business Park zone.
In discussion, councilors were mixed on whether allowing seating would tip the balance too far. Eric Sanders and Mary Mortier each voiced reservations about having tables versus carryout only. Delaney suggested language that would only allow outdoor seating.
Speaking after the decision, Marshall said he would likely include a provision for indoor and outdoor seating in his draft revision, which he anticipated bringing back to the Council later in the month.
In other business, the Council:
• Approved the final reading of Amendment 8 to the contract rezoning agreement with Front Street Shipyard. The amendment deals primarily with the proposed construction of a 22,000-square-foot workshop termed “Building 6” on the site of the Front Street municipal parking lot. The Council also approved related amendments to the Master Boundary Agreement related to the use of relief walkways to detour pedestrian and bike traffic from the Harbor Walk around the Shipyard’s travel lift pier when it is in use.
• Approved charter vessel contracts as proposed by the harbormaster, and a slate of new harbor usage fees, with the exception of a fee for beach tie ups near the Boathouse which was deemed too expensive by the Council and sent back to the Harbor Committee.
Ethan Andrews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org