TREMONT — More than 1,000 people have signed their names to petitions regarding the proposed 154-site campground, operating under the name Acadia Wilderness Lodge, on Kelleytown Road in Tremont.
One petition in favor of the project, created by the proposed campground owner’s mother, asks why someone would be against having more small businesses in town. The other petition, launched by an abutting property owner, argues the business is not what the Land Use Ordinance describes as “light commercial activity.”
“I would have a lot less issue with it if it wasn’t so massive,” said Stephen Lawson, who created the online petition against the project asking the Planning Board to deny the application. “I’ve unfortunately become the face of this, which isn’t a lot of fun. I have a lot of neighbors behind me who don’t want to see something like this in our neighborhood or on our island.”
Currently, there are over 600 signatures showing support for the small project and over 400 signatures in opposition of it. There is no way to see who is signing them or whether they are residents of Tremont, Mount Desert Island or Maine.
James Hopkins, a resident of Miami, has submitted the application for the 154-site campground with his wife, Kenya. Hopkins grew up in Tremont and is not only looking to create a campground on the 42-acre parcel of land he recently purchased, but to also include items for both visitors and year–round residents such as an indoor pool, hiking and biking trails and a Santa’s Village during the Christmas season.
“This thing isn’t just going to get slapped in overnight,” Hopkins said in a recent conversation with the Islander. “It’s a major project… It will definitely be done in phases; it’s too large of a project not to.”
In Miami, Hopkins works as a director of operations for a private family and Kenya is attending nursing school while being the primary caregiver to their 3-year-old twins. When he was younger, Hopkins’s grandfather gave him 1.5 acres of property on the south end of Kelleytown Road with the intention that he sell the property and use the money to help pay for college.
“Which I didn’t do; I kept the land,” Hopkins said.
After deciding to keep the parcel, Hopkins approached the town of Tremont and spoke with former Code Enforcement Officer John Larson about what options he had that would be in line with the town’s Land Use Ordinance. After doing some research, Larson responded with the idea of a campground, according to Hopkins.
“They’ve been really great to work with,” he said of the town officials “We’re really trying to work with and do everything the right way.”
An application for an 11-site campground on that acre and a half of land was approved in 2019. Lawson’s wife, Cynthia, appealed the Planning Board’s decision before the town’s Board of Appeals, but was denied. Construction has begun on that original Acadia Wilderness Lodge with a scheduled opening date of June 1.
“Those are technically two separate entities – two totally separate projects,” said Hopkins about the 11-site campground and the proposed 154-site campground.
There will be water and electricity to all sites for both projects, as well as WiFi. But, Lawson and other neighbors want to see the quietside of the island stay quiet.
“You cannot petition the Planning Board,” said Tremont Town Clerk Katie Dandurand in a conversation with the Islander. She explained the petition can be brought before the Planning Board during a public hearing or be presented to members of the board in their meeting packet.
“We really want to get the word out and that’s mostly what the petition’s about,” said Lawson, who understands the limits of the petition’s power. When the first, smaller campground was going through the Planning Board process, he found out too late. “We really didn’t feel like we got enough notice… It’s not a personal thing. I don’t have animosity towards those neighbors. We are very quickly becoming what isn’t at all the town I grew up in.”
Hopkins and Lawson were a year apart when they attended Mount Desert Island High School.
“I grew up on Kelleytown Road,” said Hopkins, who would eventually like to move back to Tremont with his family. “I know in the wintertime it can be hard to find things to do.”
Not only are he and Kenya trying to provide opportunity for year–round residents on the property, but they are also focusing on infusing the local community by hiring businesses that operate either in town or on the island.
“Any dollars we’re spending, we’re dumping right back into the local economy,” said Hopkins. “Anybody that we have coming in to do the work, it’s 100 percent important to me that we hire people from the community… We want it to be something everyone can be a part of and can enjoy.”
When asked if his kids would be in favor of a Santa’s Village type park next door, Lawson said they would likely be proponents of anything with the word Santa included. But, he added, they are fans of fishing and being outside and would surely miss what they now have.
“They are more interested in quiet and going behind our house and playing in the woods,” he said, “which wouldn’t happen anymore.”
The application for the proposed campground goes before the Planning Board again on March 23, at which time the board will determine its completeness. Once it has been deemed complete, a public hearing will be scheduled.