Readfield man, unlicensed for commercial music venue, to host free concert in barn
READFIELD – Even though Bob Bittar does not have a license to operate a non-profit or commercial facility, the music will continue as planned in his new wood-frame concert barn.
âI want the city to see what I’ve done,â said Bittar, walking from space to space, opening doors and pointing out various features, all to the beat of Caribbean steel drum music from speakers.
Bittar sees the barn as a âreal performance centerâ, a place where musicians, young and old, can converse with each other. âThey play in bars and places that are not suitable for people who are real artists,â Bittar said.
He has a certificate of occupancy for a single-family residence on the 26 Mill Stream Road property, so he’s invited friends and neighbors – as well as those who check out the Readfield Emporium Facebook page – to a “concert housewarming party.” free âSaturday.
The new white pine barn – 60 feet long by 55 feet wide in places – is attached to an older structure, formerly a textile mill, now converted into a pub with tables and chairs and even two separate taps on the bar. At the bar, the Rolling Stones’ âPaint It Blackâ exploded. The pub was the dream of Bittar’s late wife Helen, who lived long enough to be shown reality months before her death on April 13.
The building itself has three large barn doors that open on one side under a row of high paned windows. A stage with a concert piano and microphones occupies one end of the interior, and a balcony tops the commercial kitchen at the opposite end. The first concert, scheduled for 7 p.m., will be free, as will the soft drinks and snacks that Bittar, a chef at his Readfield Emporium, will prepare himself.
Performers will be Stan Davis and Brian Kavanaugh, John Heaton-Jones and blues performer Mary Murphy.
The following Saturday, August 25, solo pianist Chiharu Naruse will perform at 7 p.m., and it will also be free.
Bittar, 78, said he worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week on the property.
âIt’s crazy,â he said. “This is really crazy.”
Bittar has applied for a permit for a proposed event and community center since last winter. Initially, he requested that the zoning be replaced by the village district, which allows for “higher density residential use, commercial, community and government facilities and light industry.” He said he followed a road map for improvements presented to him by the late Stefan Pakulski, who was then City Manager of Readfield, but ran into roadblocks.
Bittar’s first proposal was for the village district to extend from the municipal office to Giles Road and include Mill Stream Road. However, he withdrew that request after some neighbors and other residents expressed their opposition on March 1 in a public hearing.
At that meeting, Ed Sims, who lives nearby on Old Kents Hill Road, said there was more noise coming from the property, which he considered a “disturbance”. Will Harris, who also lives nearby, said he could hear more noise.
Route 17 is visible from Bittar’s property on Mill Stream Road.
Supporters also attended the meeting. Jerry Bley, a neighbor on Giles Road, suggested giving the business a chance. Ellen Bowman, who lives nearby on Thundercastle Road, said a similar facility in Brownfield has proven positive for that town.
Bittar’s second application was to change the use of his property from a single-family home to a community center / club under the city’s land use ordinance. Bittar said he would run a nonprofit focused on music and have a board of directors set membership fees, rules, guest privileges, and more. He compared it to a country club. He wrote that his intention is to “provide the rural community with a contemporary meeting house.” He said it would have a similar function to the Grange Room in Readfield’s history as a site to host discussions and social activities.
However, the planning board rejected 6-0 Bittar’s request on June 13. The minutes of the meeting state that “the planning board agrees this is a great place, but not the right place”.
Now, Bittar is seeking to change the zoning of his property from rural residential to rural, a designation under which a commercial enterprise would be permitted.
Gary Quintal, the city’s code enforcement officer, said seeking this type of approval would be a two-step process. On Wednesday evening, the town planning council noted that the zoning change request was complete; however, the board did not vote on it.
Meanwhile, Bittar and his friends have collected signatures on a petition to put the issue to Readfield voters at the polls in November. Bittar said Thursday the petition will be considered by the Readfield Select board at its Monday night meeting. The regular council meeting begins at 6.30 p.m. in the Asa Gile room.
The petition requests that council pose the issue of changing the land use map to voters in the form of a secret ballot. The change would affect seven lots along the dead end Mill Stream Road; Bittar has two.
Readfield City Clerk Robin Lint certified the petition had 188 signatures from city voters, 42 more than the 146 required.
City manager Eric Dyer said on Friday the process asked the selection committee to send the petition back to planning council for review to determine if the proposal is in line with the overall plan.
Dyer said it was similar to the process already underway at the Planning Council. âHe approached the zoning change with a belt and suspenders,â Dyer said, referring to the redundancy of the two actions.
Mill Stream runs through Factory Square, next to Bittar’s property, and a path leads to the nearby municipal office at Asa Gile Hall. Bittar and his wife provided a permanent easement leading to the city-owned dam.
The Mill Stream Dam, which was destroyed in the historic April 1987 flooding, is near the municipal office and the busy Route 17, known locally as Main Street.
Betty Adams – 621-5631