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Some see red over Maine's 'green' resort

On paper, the development here in eastern Maine sounds like a dream for people looking to get away from it all.
Eco Resort
Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele stands atop Cadillac Mountain in Bar Harbor, Maine. Acadia Park borders property slated for development by an investment firm that's touting an environmentally-friendly plan that could bring 1,000 new homes to the area.Michael C. York / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

On paper, the development in eastern Maine sounds like a dream for people looking to get away from it all.

Located on 3,300 acres of remote wildlands on pristine Schoodic Peninsula, the proposed project is described as a green community where homeowners and visitors would enjoy views of the ocean and of mountains rising up from the sea five miles away on Mount Desert Island.

"The vision is to figure out how to re-establish the connection between individuals and their natural environments — and reconnect families in the process," said Mike Saxl, spokesman for the Winter Harbor Properties investment group that's proposing the development.

However, some conservation groups and officials at adjacent Acadia National Park say the plan is out of scale and out of character with the unspoiled peninsula, known for its rugged pink granite coastline and breathtaking views.

The size of the project and unanswered questions concern Sheridan Steele, superintendent of Acadia National Park. Most of the park is on Mount Desert Island across Frenchman Bay, but it also has about 2,200 acres on Schoodic Peninsula.

Steele said he was told the number of homes to be built could range anywhere from 100 to 1,000.

"If it's 1,000 homes, just think of that," Steele said. "Think of the traffic and the noise and light. Until we know how many houses are being proposed, it's hard to know what the impact will be."

European investors
Winter Harbor Properties is made up of more than 20 investors, mostly from Europe, said Cecelia Ward, who lives in Florida and is overseeing the project.

The development, in the works for 2 1/2 years, calls for clusters of housing lots, two upscale hotels with restaurants, and a golf course billed as environmentally friendly.

It's the environment itself that's being touted as the heart of the plan. A large "green corridor" down the middle of the property would remain undeveloped, and four nature centers would be placed about the property focusing on birds, mammals, vernal pools, native plants and marine life.

The homes would have solar power and green septic systems, and they'd be designed to blend in with the surroundings, she said.

Opinions are varied in Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor, the two towns with a combined population of about 3,000 that make up Schoodic peninsula.

At Chase's Restaurant, the only year-round eatery in Winter Harbor, Jim Chipman said the development would bring jobs and money and expand the tax base.

"They own the land, and they can do what they want with it," said Chipman, a 65-year-old carpenter.

A coastal threat?
But at the counter nearby, Earle Cowperthwaite Jr. said the development would become a burden on the towns while taking away from hunting on land that now supports deer and moose. He agreed that the region has needed some sort of economic stimulus since the Navy closed a base here in 2002, but said a seasonal resort isn't the answer.

"We need a business to keep people here, not drive people away," said Cowperthwaite, 58, a wood cutter who also deals in scrap metal.

It's more than just locals chiming in.

The development threatens one of the largest unfragmented parcels along the Maine coast, providing uninterrupted habitat corridors for plants and animals, said Marla O'Byrne, president and CEO of the Friends of Acadia group.

She said that while it's laudable for the investors to present their vision before filing plans with municipal or state agencies, there are too many unanswered questions about the project and the investors who are proposing it.

The landowners
The land was bought by Bruno Modena and his son, Vittorio, in the early 1980s, Saxl said. They drew attention in the mid-1990s when they harvested timber from the property, but little else has been said publicly about them.

The Modenas are businessmen from Italy, with various real estate and property management ventures. But Ward declined to give more information, saying the Modenas are merely two people in an investment group who want to keep a low profile.

A Milan-based developer named Bruno Modena contacted by The Associated Press denied owning any land on the Schoodic Peninsula or being involved in the development project.

O'Byrne and other would like to know that their concerns are being heard.

"It's a little difficult when you don't have direct contact with the landowners," she said. "It's a one-step-removed dialogue."

Friends of Acadia
Stephanie Clement, the conservation director for Friends of Acadia, is concerned that the development would harm the habitat, mar the views and have a negative effect on the dark, star-filled sky.

From atop Schoodic Head, Clement points out where one of the hotels would be and where some of the housing would be clustered.

"This is a significant change — whether you like it or not," Clement said.

Ward, Saxl and others representing Winter Harbor Properties have been meeting with town officials, conservationists and residents to discuss the project.

"We want to be a good neighbor and partner and we're trying to find ways to do that," Saxl said.