The Nobleboro Planning Board reviewed an application from two residents for a sustainable ecotourism destination at 79 Sidelinger Road on Thursday, Feb. 15.
According to planning board Chair William Hill, the board was not ready to make a decision on the application at the initial meeting. The board will take up the matter again at its March meeting, and will likely schedule a site visit as well.
Hill said he plans to make a motion for a site visit at the next board meeting. He hopes the board will schedule the visit to take place as soon as the snow is out and the characteristics of the property are visible.
During the board’s initial review of the application, Hill pointed to road dimensions, which affect the ability of emergency vehicles to access the property; and the number of structures in the shoreland zone as potential areas of conflict with town ordinances.
“I pointed out some things to look at and maybe reconsider based on the town’s land ordinance,” Hill said.
The applicants, Kelsey Gibbs and Matt Silverman, opened the meeting with a presentation on the concept and goals behind their plans for the property.
Silverman said they purchased the 96.5-acre property near Pemaquid Pond in May 2017.
Operating under the name Out of Doors LLC, Gibbs and Silverman, both of whom attended Colby College, intend to open Wanderwood, an ecotourism destination supported by an on-site working farm.
“The idea is to build ecotourism on the back of a working farm, to bring people from near and far to see the beauty Maine has to offer,” Silverman said.
Silverman said Out of Doors LLC is the entity submitting the site plan review application to the board.
Silverman, who has a degree in biology and environmental science and experience working for the Kennebec Land Trust, said Wanderwood’s business concept and goals would enable the couple to live an outdoor lifestyle while sustainably utilizing their Nobleboro property to promote ecotourism and contribute to the local economy.
“After working in offices, we wanted to turn our passion into a livelihood and spend more time outside. We are two passionate people pursuing our dream,” Silverman said.
Silverman said an integral part of the plan is to fit the business, which he described as an ecotourism venue coupled with a lodging and event destination, in with the rural and residential characteristics of Sidelinger Road.
“We want to grow at the right speed for the property and the business, start small and proceed in phases to retain the nature of the location,” Silverman said.
Silverman said he and Gibbs spent time outside Maine working at lodging and event venues and want to bring the idea back with the added element of a sustainable business approach.
“We fell in love with Maine and wanted a way to fit this idea into our lifestyle and make it a reality,” Silverman said.
Gibbs said a primary goal and important economic engine for the site would be events such as weddings and corporate retreats.
Gibbs said the business is applying for a lodging license from the state and working with the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office to ensure safety throughout the property.
In a response to a question from board member Clete Baltes about the impact of noise on neighboring properties, Gibbs said the quiet nature of the neighborhood is not something they are trying to change.
“We know noise is something people are concerned about, as we are ourselves,” Gibbs said.
Silverman echoed Gibbs’ statement and said audio testing would be done to ensure a low decibel level between the hours of 8-11 p.m. in accordance with the town’s ordinances and the business’s policies.
“We are living on the property currently and appreciate the tranquil nature of the lake,” Silverman said.
Gibbs said the intent is for the business to be seasonal, operating from May to October.
Responding to a question from board member Shoshana Zuboff regarding the location’s lodging capacity, Silverman said the maximum amount of guests would be 52. The figure would include 12 people in tents and 40 in buildings.
According to Silverman, the business plan entails three phases that would take a few years to complete.
Silverman said the first phase of the project would focus on improvements to the road, renovations of existing structures, general improvements to the property, and initial farming efforts.
The second phase would focus on building additional lodging options on the property, including four-season cabins, rustic cabins, and tent sites, in addition to expanding the farm’s infrastructure by adding an area for animals and a produce processing site, according to Silverman.
Silverman said the final phase would focus on additional amenities, such as a multi-purpose building for workshops and retreats and a bunk house if demand necessitates additional lodging.
Eddy Lafrenaye, of Fern Cove Road, asked if the board was prepared to make a decision on the matter the night of the presentation.
Hill said the board was not and he is interested in the possibility of a site visit.
“I think, at a minimum, we would need a site visit to understand what is there,” Hill said.
Members of the public also asked if there were plans for a public hearing on the application.
Paul Stebner, of Back Meadow Road, asked about drainage issues on the property.
Members of the public also raised concerns about traffic impacts on Sidelinger Road.
After the public-comment period, Zuboff recommended that the applicants seek out professional help to ensure the project’s compatibility with municipal ordinances and general standards.
“General standards are an important place to start. Ultimately we, as a board, have to go through every standard and look at the information you are giving us and look at it through each standard,” Zuboff said.
“This is the core of it. What Nobleboro’s ordinances try to do, in my view, is create a balance of values and to make sure anything that is done is done safely,” Zuboff said.