Faced With Local Opposition, L.L. Bean Backs Out of Maine Housing Development
In November, L.L Bean announced that it will withdraw its support for a developer’s plan to build housing in Freeport. After meeting outrage from residents, the outdoor-retailer reconsidered its plans and impact on the community. The controversial plan centered on building 329 single-family houses, 60 apartment units, 140 homes in duplex buildings, and another eight commercial lots. The development was going to take place over the next 20 years off Desert and Old County roads, just west of Interstate 295.
Freeport’s Current Affordability and Inventory
Freeport is a small town of 1,412 residents on the Harraseeket that is mainly residential with 72% of homes being single-family. The median listing price is $375,000, with limited home inventory not only in the community but also the state. This low inventory has driven home prices up, making affordable housing a problem for many residents. The median household income in Freeport is $64,224 after an 18% growth in 2018.
Resident Outlook on New Development
Despite Freeport’s struggle with affordable housing, many Freeport residents were opposed to L.L. Bean’s new development plan. Residents rushed to board meetings to voice their concerns over the new plans and the changes that would be inflicted on this rural town. As many as 2,000 new residents were expected to move to Freeport, a small community that is already struggling to hold on to its beloved rural character.
Victoria Winters, a resident of Freeport who recently moved back to her hometown after college, is one of the many locals voicing their concerns about the development. “It’s not that we don’t want to welcome new families or that we don’t need more affordable housing, but we want it done in more appropriate ways. I don’t think adding 25 or 50 homes is a terrible idea and I’d welcome that, but we need to focus on other issues... like revitalizing the downtown,” she said. “We need to have something that people are moving here for.”
Residents want to preserve the community they have as well as the housing that’s left. Affordable housing is already an issue in the community, and it’s likely this new development would increase median home prices over time.
“L.L. Bean has had a really close, symbiotic relationship with the community for decades, and so there were a lot of conflicting feelings,” said Erin Clough, a lawyer and Freeport resident.
President and CEO Stephen Smith addressed the public's concerns in a letter to the community. “The process and plan for a joint project with the Town of Freeport and a local developer veered from our original good intentions. As such, we feel that the best decision is to hold on this project until there is a clear and comprehensive plan agreed upon by the town and local residents regarding the best use of land in Freeport.”
Clough and residents alike were thrilled with L.L. Bean’s decision and are excited about the idea of working with the company and community on dispersing this property for better long-term viability and use.
“Everyone’s really excited that L.L. Bean decided to pull out of the purchase agreement and not move forward with the development right now, and we remain optimistic that we can continue to have an impact” said Clough in an interview with the Press Herald. “I think this shows that L.L. Bean does care about the community.”
The Future of Freeport
The town of Freeport’s plan for land and resource use expires in 2023, leading many to question where the future will lie. The comprehensive plan, a document that articulates the community’s vision for the future, will be a town discussion and holds the potential to be a major turning point for the community. Discussions about L.L. Bean’s land may coincide with the larger conversation about Freeport’s future, and where the town sees itself. Time will tell, though we hope that Freeport can preserve its rural charm while addressing its affordability issue.
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