KENNEBUNK, Maine — The fate of the Wedding Cake House, a historic home in Kennebunk, hangs in the balance as the Planning Board debates whether to recommend a contract zone that would allow it to operate as an inn and events venue.
Supporters and opponents of the proposal are making their arguments for and against the change.
Hunt and Katie Edwards, who own the iconic Summer Street house, offered a tour of their property on Monday, Oct. 30, showing why they want to open an inn and venue space to create a revenue stream to help them restore and maintain the structure’s wedding cake-like trim and columns.
Then, on Tuesday, Oct. 31, Gayle and David Spofford, the next-door couple spearheading a group called Friends of the Wedding Cake House, stated their arguments against the contract zone, saying that it risks upending the entire character of the neighborhood if voters approve it and adding the events venue, in particular, would create concerns related to noise, traffic and safety.
Wedding Cake house owners say inn needed to restore historic mansion
To date, the Edwardses have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars renovating the home, often said to be the most photographed residence in Maine. The couple has renovated the home and adjacent carriage house, addressing cosmetic issues and strengthening structural elements that had been faltering.
“We’ve done what was the most important thing to save the house, both with the interior and the foundation and structure,” Hunt Edwards said. “That part has been saved. The point is now for it to be the attraction that is.”
And that means the couple is now focused on the home’s trim and columns – the very exterior elements that once transformed the stately residence into the gothic Wedding Cake House.
Much of the old, ornate trim has been removed and is currently down in the basement, waiting to be rehabilitated or replaced.
“The trim and all the columns that was put on so long ago is what’s outliving its lifetime,” Katie Edwards said. “Whether it is replaced or repaired or whatever, that’s where we felt that a revenue stream for the house would take it into the future.”
Maintaining the trim and columns is a “huge expense,” Hunt Edwards said.
“It’s not your normal house, or even your normal mansion, or even your normal mansion down the street,” he added. “This is beyond that.”
The Wedding Cake House and its attached carriage house are in strong condition, and the Edwardses are currently offering the historic home as a boutique rental for anyone who wants to experience living in it during a four-night stay. Those who do rent will find a historic home furnished to reflect its history, from the numerous artworks that adorn the walls to the rooms fashioned after those who once lived there.
The Edwardses live above the carriage house, the downstairs of which is where they hope to open as a venue for all kinds of social gatherings.
The couple is proposing that their venue would have events of no more than 150 people on site, with a police officer at the scene who would ensure safety and keep the noise in check. Hunt Edwards said the interior of the carriage house is lined with speakers to create a balanced volume for music, as opposed to a single amp or two that would be responsible for filling the whole space.
Hunt Edwards responded to concerns that there would be “music going” from seven in the morning until ten at night, with back-to-back events planned at the venue throughout any given day.
“That’s not true,” he said.
The logistics alone, he suggested, meant that a five-hour event on one day would need the day before to set up and the day after to clear out.
The Edwardses have spent much of 2023 working their way through the town’s planning process, which to date has included several proposal revisions, meetings, and a public hearing in July, during which residents and others expressed numerous concerns.
Hunt Edwards showed frustration with the process during the Planning Board’s most recent meeting, when he suggested he could sell the Wedding Cake House if he and his wife were unable to see through the plan that their proposed contract zone seeks to carry out. Edwards said the money he is spending on his lawyer for the process is money that is not being invested in his home.
Why Friends of the Wedding Cake House are against inn plan
According to the Spoffords, there’s a reason why the Planning Board’s process seems more deliberate and detail-oriented than usual.
“There are no rules on these contracts,” David Spofford said. “It’s scary.”
The Spoffords said there is not enough guidance when it comes to contract zones, an arrangement they say used to be more geared towards density issues on a property and not to proposals that would enable a place to go from being a residential zone to a commercial one.
The Spoffords started campaigning against the proposed contract zone this summer, when they went house to house with flyers outlining their concerns ahead of the public hearing in July. The group they formed, Friends of the Wedding Cake House, is a registered trademark with the town.
“Everyone on the street admires the house,” Gayle Spofford said. “None of us want to see it destroyed because of inattention.”
The group has hired an attorney from Pierce Atwood, a Portland firm, and the Spoffords said legal options will be considered if the Planning Board advances the proposed contract zone to the Select Board for further consideration.
“We’re going to keep our quality of life,” Gayle Spofford said.
She added that a commercial enterprise in a residential zone “defeats the entire purpose and protection” of the residential zone.
“Our whole premise is this is an attack on residential zoning,” she said.
Some of the Spoffords’ concerns are of the usual not-in-my-backyard variety. There’s the noise they are concerned that an events venue would make. They also say they are concerned about the traffic and resulting safety issues the Edwardses may create if they are able to open a venue next door.
“When I built this house, I never thought I was going to have 30 parking spaces down my property line because the zoning didn’t allow it,” David Spofford said.
Mostly, though, the Spoffords and the roughly two-dozen members of Friends of the Wedding Cake House are concerned that a contract zone, if approved, could permanently alter the neighborhood’s character.
David Spofford described Lower Village in Kennebunk as largely residential in the 1950s but is now commercial. He said the church he attended as a youth is now a surf shop.
According to the Spoffords, a contract zone at the Wedding Cake House could lead to contract zones at other homes on Summer Street. The Spoffords suggested that other homeowners in the neighborhood could decide that they too would need a revenue stream to keep up with their properties, or would see opportunities to sell their homes if it had commercial potential for likely buyers.
Will Planning Board advance contract zone proposal?
If the Planning Board agrees to advance the couple’s proposed contract zone to the Select Board – something it could do either on Nov. 13 or Nov 27 – then the couple’s request moves closer to the ballot during the state primary and town election in March. For that to happen, the Select Board first would need to hold its own public hearing and decide whether the proposal is ballot-worthy.
Once called the most photographed home in the state of Maine, the 1825 structure is formally known as the George W. Bourne House. Bourne was a local sea captain and shipbuilder.
The home has been restored on several occasions during the past two centuries. James Hunt Barker – Hunt Edwards’ uncle – bought the house in 1998. Hunt Edwards began renovating it in 2019.
The Edwardses described their home as a popular tourist destination that helps generate business at local shops and restaurants.
“That’s why we feel it deserves attention and deserves a special circumstance,” he said. “That’s what a contract zone does.”