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Voters in Ogunquit back zoning change to breathe new life into Ogunquit Playhouse

Voters in Ogunquit back zoning change to breathe new life into Ogunquit Playhouse

First steps can be taken to move forward with a Master Plan that began in 2015 to modernize and expand facilities at the Ogunquit Playhouse after voters last week backed the necessary zoning change to make these renovations possible.

Dating back to 1933, the Playhouse has a rich history, and today is considered the largest performing arts organization in Maine. While it was originally constructed as a summer theater, performances these days stretch out over three seasons, and the nearly 90 year building hasn’t been updated to meet visitor needs.

Zoning challenges became immediately apparent when considering efforts toward modernization. The building itself sits in two different zones, and there are a total of three zones going through the property it’s on. As it stood, the Playhouse wasn’t even a permitted use in the zoning district it was located in. Attorney John Bannon began working with the Playhouse and its leadership team in 2017 to try to find a means to make the Playhouse a conforming use and to allow it to build the improvements shown in its original Master Plan.

Before any changes could be made, John had to draft an ordinance creating a new zoning district for the Playhouse that made it a permitted use and liberalized certain dimensional standards that stood in the way of the expansion. This included an allowance to build an 85’ tall “fly tower,” used to deliver scenery to and from the stage. For reference, the normal maximum height is 35’.

After a total of six hearings before the Planning Board and the Select Board and many alterations to the drafted ordinance to address public concerns, the Select Board voted unanimously to place the ordinance on the June town meeting warrant. Voters approved the ordinance last Tuesday night by an 83% positive vote.

There’s still work to be done, as the Playhouse must receive site plan approval for each of the proposed renovations. But unless this ordinance passed, the Playhouse would have been barred from even applying for the permits needed to implement the Master Plan.

While John was instrumental in getting the ordinance passed, he credits the team at the Playhouse for their tireless efforts to educate the public about it and to meet personally with critics of the ordinance.

You can read more about the outcome of Tuesday’s vote in Mainebiz, and learn about the history of the Playhouse in a recent article from the Portland Press Herald.