A proposed development to bring three apartments and a store to Northport's Bayside village has been abandoned.
Kids joyfully experience the Bayside rite-of-passage of jumping off the village dock in this BDN file photo from 2015. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

A couple in the Northport village of Bayside has withdrawn their application to build three apartments and a small farm-style community store on the Bluff Road, after running into opposition that included a petition signed by 276 people and an alleged series of anonymous threatening phone calls.

“I know many of the more skeptical won’t believe this is real. It’s hard for me to process too,”  Brady Brim-DeForest, who was proposing the development, said in an email sent to the Bayside community late Monday. “The feedback got ugly and personal quickly. It was far from civil … At this point, however, it is clear that there is no path forward in which proceeding with our vision doesn’t bring us into conflict with our neighbors.”

He and his fiance, Jessica Cole, who moved to Bayside full time in 2020 with their two young children, wanted to do the small development project on a three-acre parcel of land next to their home. Their application was scheduled to be reviewed by the Northport Planning Board Tuesday evening, but after the couple went public with the plan it met with sharp resistance by many in the community.

The fierce debate over the proposed development is a sign of how strongly people feel about the historic seaside village located within the town of Northport. Bayside has more than 300 homes, and many people who summer there have families that have done so for generations.

But it’s hard not to also see it as an example of a trend that has grown more prevalent in recent years, especially along parts of the Maine coast: pushback to all kinds of proposed development, which can result in slowing or even stopping projects in their tracks.

The list of fiercely opposed projects is long, with perhaps the highest-profile example being Nordic Aquafarms’ land-based salmon farm in Belfast, which has been under fire since it was first proposed in 2018 and has yet to be built. Now Brim-DeForest’s proposal for a farm store and three apartments has joined that list.

The landowner said that late last week he received the first of a series of anonymous calls that threatened him with bodily injury, which he has since reported to the Maine State Police.

He said his harshest critics should “take pause and reassess the influence” their actions might have on those around them, suggesting that Bayside would be better served with an atmosphere of constructive disagreement.

“I wasn’t doing something illegal or immoral,” he wrote. “I submitted an application to build a project on land I owned free and clear that was, to the best of our understanding, fully compatible with the provisions of the zoning ordinance currently in place.”

But longtime Baysiders like Michael Tirrell, who has served as an overseer of the Northport Village Corp. for five years and is the chair of the village’s safety committee, thought the project was not right for Bayside. He said last week that Brim-DeForest, who also serves as an overseer for the village and helped lead the fundraising efforts for the new playground in Ruggles Park, has aimed to be a good citizen in Bayside since moving here. But his development idea is an overreach, Tirrell said.  

“I fundamentally disagree with what he’s doing here,” he said Friday. “This is a galvanizing thing.”

One of Tirrell’s big concerns was that Brim-DeForest and Cole appeared to be rushing their project through the town of Northport review process.

“He’s trying to do this in record time, to get under the wire before we changed our zoning ordinance, in a village he hardly knows,” Tirrell said. “It’s pretty astounding.”

But Brim-DeForest said last week there was a good reason for the rush. The lot, which he and Cole bought after it had been on the market for more than a year, is located in Bayside’s Residential 1 zoning district. The district allows a mix of residential and commercial uses, including a convenience store.

He and Cole figured that the property, which is close to but not quite in the village proper, could be a good, walkable location for a store that would sell local Maine-made goods, local vegetables and picnic-ready snacks.

In June, though, when they saw a draft revision of the village’s zoning ordinance, they realized that it removed the provision for a convenience store.

“That meant that if we wanted the chance to realize our vision, we had to move fast, before the window of opportunity closed,” he said.

A design plan for the property that included a big garden and walking paths did not assuage concerns of Bayside residents such as Tirrell, who thought it would increase traffic and also take business away from the Bayside Store on Route 1.

But there’s also a feeling in the community that a relative newcomer proposing something different is just not the way things are done in Bayside.

“It would be very easy to have this tonally come across, if it’s not characterized right, as a bunch of people who are upset about change. That’s not what this is,” Tirrell said. “We’re talking about a very small place, with very small, very limited support systems, to accommodate something that’s going to bring in an onrush of traffic.”

Brim-DeForest has been taken aback at the vehemence of the opposition and the escalation of the rhetoric against the project and against him. He said he was criticized for holding an open forum for feedback over the weekend and that he has heard that some Bayside residents are advocating for his recall from the Board of Overseers.  

Some of the conflict stems from the fact that Bayside’s summer community has different needs and wants than the year-round community, he believes, which is why he doesn’t plan to step down from his local involvement.

“I want to make sure that the small (but growing) [year-round] minority has a voice and is heard,” he said. “That they be included.”