Progress on a project to build four cabins in the town of Portland may take a giant step forward soon.
It's been more than a year since Speelberg Enterprises Inc. applied to the Portland Planning Board for permission to build on a 70-acre piece of property on Woleben Road in the town. The site was purchased in December 2011 by Jerry and Beverly Speelberg.
After months of review, the Planning Board conditionally granted a special use permit in January with another hearing held in February. A State Environmental Quality Review of the project was completed, meeting one of the requirements. The special use permit came 11 months after the board first began reviewing the project.
The issue has become somewhat contentious, but it appears progress may be at hand. According to officials from the town, a building permit is ready to be issued - if it is applied for.
Portland Code Enforcement Officer Signe Rominger said she is ready to issue the permit today - for the residential use. She said a permit for commercial use of the cabins, which requires more paperwork and permitting, could be addressed after Speelberg gets waivers from the state on requirements such as sprinklers and a fire access road.
"We're going in a different direction. He would be allowed to put cabins on that are residential, meaning for personal use," she explained. "He would build those and then he can go ahead and start the process of getting them converted into a commercial project. It started with the commercial project and it just hasn't gone any place because when we have asked for things and we have not basically gotten them in a timely fashion. There's a lot more involved in a commercial project.
"They are going to be the same type of cabin, which is going to be a wilderness cabin in some respects. They will be his personal ones and then when he gets the rest of the project done as to the commercial aspect, then we can just ease him back into the commercial project. ... Everybody on my end of things loves the project because we think it will help enhance the town. We just have had a hard time getting the commercial end going for him."
Rominger added Speelberg has yet to apply for a residential permit.
"Hopefully by Monday they'll have it so they can put up these cabins and use it for themselves this summer and maybe, by next summer, have them into a commercial use."
Town Supervisor Dan Schrantz said Rominger has to go by what the state tells her.
"I'm relying on her and the Planning Board to accomplish it. It's not something where I feel I should get too involved with because it's not my expertise," he stated. "I know he's frustrated because it's dragged on, but it's just a tough project."
Schrantz noted Speelberg received public support for the project but guidelines must be followed.
"I think we can get it going. I know they were very leary when they left saying, this will just create a whole new ball game if they just go residential," Schrantz explained. "I guess she can give them those permits right away and basically he can get going. ... The only thing I was hesitant about that was I didn't want him to build these cabins and then not be able to turn them into commercial when he gets the waivers. That's why I really wanted Signe to be able to say OK, you build these under commercial specs like you have in the drawings right now even though they're residential, and once you've got those waivers we can just switch them over to commercial.
"He can build them but he's not going to be able to rent them out until he gets the commercial; he can use them for his own private use."
Dan Gard is Speelberg's attorney and told the OBSERVER on Friday that he had spoken to his client and the permit would be applied for today. In a letter to the Town Board dated May 1, Speelberg asked the board to intercede with Rominger on his behalf. Whether that letter played a role in Rominger saying she would issue the permit is unclear.
Schrantz said a lot of time has been spent on the project by the planning board and Rominger. He added had the waivers from the state been applied for and granted things may have been different.
"We were waiting on those two waivers, but now she found a way that he can get going; the unfortunate part with us being a small town she doesn't work full time either; she's only in that office a couple times a week and she's got a lot of other things going because we're pretty busy right now," Schrantz said. "She's only got so many hours to spend on that. It's unfortunate; I don't want to hold him back."
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