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Castine
Originally published in Castine Patriot, March 20, 2014
The Breeze owner appeals to selectmen for lower rent

by Anne Berleant

Snow Logan, owner of waterfront take-out The Breeze, asked selectmen to reconsider the $4,500 lease she signed with the town after lengthy negotiations. Selectmen read her written letter of appeal at their March 27 meeting.

The Breeze sits on town property, and selectmen raised the annual rent for 2014 by 300 percent to compensate for the cost of cleaning the public restrooms. Previously, maintaining the restrooms was written into the lease; now it is not. Logan had paid $1,300 for each of the previous two years.

Selectmen changed the lease after nearly two years of complaints on the state of the restrooms. Logan maintains her employees emptied trash and cleaned the restrooms twice daily.

“The harsh truth of the matter is that by paying that huge amount of rent, plus legal fees to fight this unfair change months before we are even to open, it will be an extreme hardship for me to come up with our other normal start-up costs,” Logan wrote in a letter read by selectmen.

Selectmen originally asked for $6,000 for a one-year lease. Logan’s letter holds that her counter-offer of $4,500, approved by selectmen in January, was made under duress, with the full rent due in nine days “although I normally pay the rent on July 15. It seems to me that the rules were changed overnight,” she said.

Logan is appealing to the selectmen to “review their decision and help me keep my business open. I feel I could afford $2,000 as a fair increase.”

The cost of moving the building would be $2,500, Logan said.

Chairman David Unger said the town would consult the town’s attorney to “come up with any options reasonable [and] fair” to everyone.

“It would be premature for us to make a decision,” he said.

“This all came about because of the state of the bathrooms,” said Town Manager Dale Abernethy.

The issue was tabled until the selectmen’s next meeting. (See letters on page 2 for another perspective on the issue.)

In other business, selectmen approved an $8,030 request for consultant work from the Community and Economic Development Committee, but not before some back-and-forth regarding the 2014-15 municipal budget.

“Now, [the CED] is not going to have $10,000 to put into surplus,” said Selectman Peter Vogell.

Of the $14,638 left from the $30,000 voters approved for economic development consultants last year, selectmen and the CED had agreed to place $10,000 in the town’s surplus account. Then, the $20,000 request in the upcoming town meeting warrant for economic development consultants would be funded half from surplus and half from taxation.

The last-minute request would either raise the taxation request to $13,392 or drop the overall CED request to $16,608.

“The numbers keep changing,” said Selectman Gus Basile.

The additional $8,030 request is for upgrading the town website, to be paid to Barbara Whitten, a marketing and branding consultant from Portland. In January, the CED had contracted Whitten to survey a selected handful of residents and then develop and design brand and messaging statements for Castine, for which she was paid $2,250.

The proposed cost to upgrade the website “is more than it cost to build it,” observed Abernethy.

“The issue is content,” said CED Chairman Rick Armstrong. Whitten’s proposal would create separate website pages for weddings, events, media, relocation, vacation packages and the like. “We didn’t know what this train was going to look like, and now we do,” Armstrong said.

The upgrade needs to be completed by June in “order to be effective,” Armstrong continued. “So we have to kick back less to the town [surplus].”

With town meeting set for May 10, selectmen needed to sign the municipal warrant on March 18, immediately following their meeting.

“The CED is paying a tremendous amount of money for its own operation,” said member Scott Vogell. “I would suggest we keep the budget at $20,000.”

Selectmen unanimously voted to approve the request, and keep the CED request for next year at $20,000.