News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, May 15, 2014
Funeral home application moves forward, parking remains sticking point

by Rich Hewitt

After a somewhat contentious session over parking issues Monday, May 12, the Blue Hill Planning Board ruled that the application from the Jordan-Fernald Funeral Home to convert a downtown building into its new business space was complete and set a date for a public hearing on the proposal.

Although the space, located in the back portion of the former New Cargoes/Partridge Pharmacy building, will remain retail space, the plan to move the funeral home there is considered a change of use because the funeral home plans to hold viewings at that site. That raised concerns about parking when the board first discussed the move last month, and parking remained a point of contention, particularly between board member Marcia Henderson and the funeral home’s director, Lauri Fernald.

Although other board members indicated that they’d had calls from people concerned about the parking, it was Henderson who pressed the issue.

In her application, Fernald said she would limit the size of any viewing to 75 people. She also said she had made arrangements with Bar Harbor Bank & Trust to use its parking lot during times for viewings when the bank is not open.

Henderson said she thought that 75 was too many and could create congestion and parking problems in the downtown area.

“What’s important is that people understand your business and the controls you have to ensure it not go over 75 people,” she said.

Henderson said she had not seen any information that convinced her Fernald could control the traffic that would occur during a viewing.

Fernald said she did not anticipate large crowds at that location, noting one of the reasons she was downsizing was because there was less demand for the larger space she now occupies. For the rare larger funerals, she said, she would direct clients to a church or another suitable large space.

Henderson also questioned Fernald’s assertion that the existing funeral home had held just five viewings at its South Street site in the past eight years. Citing figures from the home’s website, she said she counted 21 viewings in the past two years.

Fernald disputed Henderson’s numbers and agreed to bring her records to the next planning board meeting.

Fernald was clearly frustrated with the demands that she outline ways to control traffic, particularly since, she said, there were other businesses in that area that drew crowds and did not have the same kinds of demands placed on them.

Henderson said those businesses were grandfathered because they have had similar uses for years. It was because the funeral home had viewings that the parking was an issue, she said. The downtown has a parking problem, she said, and the board needed to make sure that they didn’t make it worse.

Fernald countered that she did not create the parking problem, but it seems like the board was targeting her business in order to improve the situation.

“I can’t believe the amount of pressure I’m getting to solve the parking problem for the town,” she said. “This has left me feeling like a scapegoat.”

Judy Jenkins, the town’s code enforcement officer, reminded the board that they had taken the issue of parking to town residents asking for more authority to deal with parking issues in the downtown area and that voters had “flatly voted it down.”

Ken Charles supported Fernald and said he was willing to trust her judgment as a business owner that the space would work for her. He also expressed concern about the “negative” tone the meeting had taken and said it was “unwelcoming to a potential business in town.”

In the end, the board found the application complete and asked Fernald to bring additional information with her to the next session, particularly regarding the times and days of operation, records from past years operation, and specifics about how to control parking during times when there are crowds. The board also set June 9 as the date for a public hearing on the funeral home’s application.

The board also ruled that the application from Carol Ann Cutler to relocate her doggie day care and overnight boarding facility to an existing boat house on Greene’s Hill was complete. That project will go to a public hearing at the next board meeting on June 9.