2013-06-21 / Front Page

Cape teens allowed to continue summer camps

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Portia Wilson, left and Maisie Perkins will run a “Girly Summer Camp” from Wilson’s home in Cape Elizabeth. Until a ordinance change from the town council Monday, June 10, camps like the one the two girls plan to run were not permitted uses in the town. (Jack Flagler photo) Portia Wilson, left and Maisie Perkins will run a “Girly Summer Camp” from Wilson’s home in Cape Elizabeth. Until a ordinance change from the town council Monday, June 10, camps like the one the two girls plan to run were not permitted uses in the town. (Jack Flagler photo) CAPE ELIZABETH – This winter, on a three-hour return drive from a ski trip at Sugarloaf to Cape Elizabeth, Portia Wilson and Maisie Perkins came up with an idea to make some money over the summer.

The two friends, who will be sophomores at Cape Elizabeth High School next year, planned to have a few grade-school aged girls to Wilson’s home for an informal day camp they would call “Girly Summer Camp.”

They planned activities such as cake decorating, swimming and dress-up. Wilson is interested in photography, so she decided to include a photo shoot, and have the campers decorate the frame, so parents could take photos home at the end of the week’s session.

Until June 10, what Perkins and Wilson planned on their ride home from Sugarloaf was not a permitted use under the ordinances of the town of Cape Elizabeth.

That is because the mostly uncontroversial operation of the informal summer camps became intertwined with the divisive issue of short-term rental operations in town last summer.

Wilson and Perkins got the original idea for their camp when they had visited their friend Kathryn Grennon the previous summer. Wilson and Perkins saw Grennon’s brother Chris was running a successful summer sports camp. A group of grade school-aged children would visit the Grennon home on Sea Barn Road to spend a few hours each day for a few weeks each summer to play sports.

Wilson and Perkins noticed that the group coming to Grennon’s camp were all boys, so they came up with a plan to offer a similar in-home day camp for girls, offered in the Wilson home with limited adult supervision.

Just before the end of Grennon’s summer camp last year, a neighbor on Sea Barn Road who had offered his home for shortterm rentals filed a complaint with former Code Enforcement Officer Bruce Smith because the Grennons did not have a permit to host a group of children at their home. Cape Elizabeth’s zoning ordinance had provisions for home day care facilities, but none that specifically addressed the informal summer day camps run by teenagers.

Town Councilor David Sherman said it is the council’s belief. the complaint was “purely retaliatory,” and did not stem from issues like noise or traffic. Grennon had operated for several summers prior to the complaint.

Despite the personal nature of what may have been an isolated complaint, the council still felt action was necessary to formally legalize the day camps, Sherman said.

“No matter what we do, these things are going to continue. It’s not as if teenagers are waiting with bated breath,” Sherman said. “It’s just a way to prevent the situation we had last summer.”

After months of review from the Cape Elizabeth Planning Board and ordinance committee, the town council voted at its June meeting to approve day camps as a permitted use, allowing camps like Girly Summer Camp at the Wilson home to operate legally this summer.

All six councilors, with Frank Governali absent, believed the camps should operate in town in some form, but the approval vote passed 4-2 because councilors Kathy Ray and Jessica Sullivan objected to the council’s decision to expand the operating hours and number of children allowed beyond the ordinance committee’s recommendation.

The committee proposed a limit of 10 campers a day for four hours per day, but councilors Caitlin Jordan and Jamie Wagner proposed successful amendments that expanded the limit to 12 campers for up to six hours a day.

“You don’t want to put someone who’s been doing what they’ve been doing for years into violating an ordinance,” Wagner said at the meeting.

Wilson and Perkins said they plan to accept up to 10 campers this summer in each of their sessions, which will run four hours a day, four days per week from July into August. The girls said that limit didn’t come from the town discussion, but simply because they thought five campers per “counselor” would be as much as they could handle.

The girls will charge $125 per girl per week, meaning if each session fills up with the maximum of 10 children, Wilson and Perkins could each bring in $2,500 for the summer.

Portia Wilson’s mother, Lee Wilson, said the day camp is a great opportunity for high school children who aren’t yet old enough to drive, but want to start saving money. There are a few job opportunities for those teenagers in town, such as Kettle Cove Creamery and CafĂ©, or the summer camps run by Cape Elizabeth Community Services, but those spots fill quickly.

Lee Wilson said she knows from experience as a working parent the informal camps can be a huge relief when summer comes along.

“You’re scrambling. You have to keep them entertained and busy throughout a whole summer vacation while you’re working. It’s tough,” Wilson said.

Suzanne Martin-Pillsbury, Portia Wilson’s aunt, will send her daughter Mary, 8, to Girly Summer Camp. Portia often babysits Mary, but Martin-Pillsbury said the full camp will be much more fun for her daughter than oneon one babysitting.

“They like being with the older kids. They’re doing a camp, they get to be social,” Martin-Pillsbury said.

Perkins saw that benefit when she was in elementary school and attended similar camps. She said the activities and programs were fun, but the biggest benefit for a young child is simply spending time with an older teenager.

“I went to a camp in the neighborhood when I was little, and I thought it was so awesome, just cause the girls who ran it were so much older,” Perkins said.

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