2016-07-01 / Front Page

New marina restaurant approved

Lease deal for Port Harbor Marine property near
By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — A new restaurant, indeed a new building, is on the way, replacing Joe’s Boathouse, a popular restaurant at Spring Point Marina in South Portland that closed in November after 23 years in business.

The city council granted unanimous approval Tuesday, June 28, to a site plan submitted by the Soucy family, which owns the current building and leases the marina land property from the city.

Additionally, a new lease with the Soucys may be in the offing for as early as the next city council meeting, on Wednesday, July 6.

Laura Argitis, owner of Portland’s Old Port Sea Grill, will run the new restaurant, tentatively called Milly’s Skillet. The operation is slated for a July 12 review by the planning board.

Tuesday’s business was to settle size, placement and general operation of the building itself. Under the approved plan, the Soucys will tear down the existing one-story building at 1 Spring Point Drive and replace it with a sleek, 7,200-squarefoot wood and steel structure. The new building will have two floors, with an outdoor dining patio on both levels, as well as large windows overlooking the marina and Casco Bay, beyond.

Designer Harry Hepburn, of Yarmouth architectural firm BRIBURN, said the new building will have roughly the same footprint as Joe’s Boathouse, although it will be moved slightly, pulled back 20 feet from the property line next to the Breakwater condominiums, and 44 feet above the new FEMA flood plain line.

Todd Gammon, with Blais Civil Engineers, said a new 3,000-square-foot grassy area will be created, replacing current paved surfaces, to help capture and filter stormwater runoff from the building, while Mark Gagnon of Landmark Construction, which will put up the new building, promised that an existing walkway to the shore, between the restaurant and the condominiums, will be not only preserved, but “improved.”

In addition to the restaurant, the new building is slated to include bathrooms and a laundromat for use by boat owners at the marina, and their guests.

Much of the talk at Tuesday’s planning board meeting centered on hours of operation for the new restaurant, to the point where even planning board member Linda Boudreau, who proposed restrictions, admitted, “We’re wordsmithing this to death.” Ultimately, the board ruled final seating for both the bar and dining room will be at 10 p.m. – although patrons in the door by that time can still be served until they leave – and that trash collection will me limited to between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The board also excluded the possibility of live music and any amplification of outdoor sound.

Those were concessions made to Breakwater residents, who, while generally praising the Soucys’ concept in general, have expressed concern about noise, given that the outdoor patios will be, in some cases, less than 20 yards from their bedroom windows.

“I want the restaurant. I’m excited to go there and appreciate all the work being done to make this a solid attempt at a quality operation,” Breakwater resident Judy Kline said, “but I just think there are some details we need to work out to make it fit within the community.”

Still, while that remained a common theme during Tuesday’s public hearing, most agreed talks between the Soucys and their neighbors had gone well, with the former reportedly going out of their way to ease concerns.

The building has been reduced from an original proposal back in January of 9,125-square-feet, while seating has been reduced from 172, to 50 per floor, plus the outdoor decks. The Soucys also have agreed to build an 8-foot wall separating the decks from the nearby homes, and to install a partial covering above the openair seating areas.

“It seems, in general, that there’s been a good back-and-forth between the applicant and residents in the area, with some amendment and accommodations being made,” said city planning Director Tex Haeuser.

“I have heard a lot of collaboration and cooperation,” planning board member Kevin Carr agreed. “I wish it was like this all the time.”

“This is going to be a high-end restaurant, it’s not going to be a bar like some places in the area,” Boudreau said.

Lease deal near

Although the Soucy family that owns Port Harbor Marine owns the building, a $20,000 limit on improvements they can make on the city-owned land meant the council had to give a green light before the development could move on to the planning board. The council gave that permission in January in a 7-0 vote.

Meanwhile, negotiations with the Soucys on a new lease deal have been ongoing.

In May, City Councilor Claude Morgan, council liaison to the Spring Point Lease Committee, said that group was “very, very close to completing its work.”

“I hope that certainly within a month, and maybe even sooner, we may find in front of us a motion for the acceptance of this new lease. I think the citizens will be very pleased,” he said.

The current city contract with Port Harbor Marine, which expires in April 2020, calls on a lease of $30,000 per year, or 1 percent of total marina rental fees and sales, excluding boat sales.

At its June 20 meeting, the council entered executive session to discuss the contract. On Tuesday, City Manager Jim Gailey said in an email that the final details of that new deal are “still in the works” but added the contract “might be ready by Friday,” for public view, preparatory to a vote at the July 6 council meeting.

The committee that negotiated the new lease includes Morgan, Assistant City Manager Josh Reny, Finance Director Greg L’Heureux, city resident and Cumberland County Commissioner Tom Coward, and special legal counsel Ron Epstein.

According to Morgan, the city hired an appraiser who specializes in private projects on public land.

“The complexities here are that the Soucys have invested private funds that in many cases are now permanent fixtures on public properties, so-called earned possessory interests,” Morgan said in a recent email. “The appraisal tallies all the assets and parses out the possessory interests to determine how much the city would owe the Soucys if we didn’t enter into a new lease and sent them packing.”

Morgan said one reason the city continues to negotiate a lease, rather than attempt to sell the marina to the Soucys, or some other party, outright, is because the site deed is “clouded with post- World War II covenants that accompany properties that were nationalized during the war effort and then handed back to private and governmental entities for specific activities.”

“In this instance, General Electric has rights of first refusal. I kid you not. And if the city did sell the property to a buyer, such as the Soucys, we would have to reinvest in a similar piece of undeveloped waterfront, which no longer exists in South Portland,” Morgan said.

Morgan said he rejects the “sweetheart deal” epithet often assigned to the marina lease.

“The Soucys took an enormous risk on a very unlikely piece of property and turned it into a world-class marina,” he said.

“Our negotiations were based on a mutually-agreeable foundation that this lease will reflect and follow market rates of similar public-private leases,” Morgan said, citing the example of a private motel in Yosemite National Park. “All the parties are working the table in good faith and I am confident that the public will be pleased with the lease we are currently negotiating.”

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