READFIELD — The owner of a prospective concert venue in Readfield said town officials have ordered the cancellation of an event that was scheduled for Saturday. The Kennebec Journal reported last week that the show would go on despite a lack of a permit for a commercial concert venue.

Bob Bittar talks about plans for music in his barn Thursday, Aug. 9, in Readfield. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

The owner of the timber-frame barn at 26 Mill Stream Road, Bob Bittar, planned on holding a “free concert barn house warming” at the property. He has a certificate of occupancy for a single-family residence at the property, but lacks a mass gathering permit — necessary for crowds of more than 500 people — or approval for a concert venue from town planning officials.

The performers, Stan Davis and Brian Kavanaugh, John Heaton-Jones and blues performer Mary Murphy, have been moved to the Readfield Emporium, a restaurant Bittar owns and operates.

Town Manager Eric Dyer said a notice was given to Bittar on Thursday telling him to cancel the event.

“He’s operating a concert venue without planning board (approval),” Town Manager Eric Dyer said in a phone call on Friday.

The notice states that the property in the rural residential district and “use for concerts and other information about this that you have provided and publicized through the newspapers, correspondence, and social media, make it abundantly clear that what you propose is not allowed under the Land Use and other ordinances in (Readfield.)”

Further, the memo reads that Bittar has “explicitly stated that over 1500 people have expressed interest in the concert” which implies need for a mass gathering permit. Bittar argued in a response letter to Dyer and Code Enforcement Officer Gary Quittal that interest does not directly translate to attendance.

The notice threatens legal action if Bittar moves forward with “this concert or any other similar events.”

Bob Bittar lacks a town permit to operate a nonprofit or a commercial facility at his home and new barn in Readfield, seen here Thursday, Aug. 9. Bittar plans to hold free concerts at the barn for now, but he envisions the facility becoming a “true performance center.” Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Bittar said in a response to that he intends to hold events by invitation at the barn but none of them will reach “mass-gathering” attendance levels.

He added that an event planned for August 25 will be held. Concert piano soloist Chiharu Naruse will perform as a memorial celebration to Bittar’s wife, Helen, who died in April. He told town officials that the crowd will be no larger than 100 people.

“I just did not want to call it a memorial celebration so it is called a concert,” he said.

Bittar said the prompt cancellation could not possibly be broadcast to all prospective attendees, who he estimated in the hundreds, causing “a bit of confusion.”

“I think there’s going to be a lot of people here,” Bittar said Friday. “I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Bittar is in the midst of his third proposal to the town’s planning board. He’s seeking to change zoning on his property from rural residential to rural, a designation under which a commercial enterprise would be permitted. His two previous failed attempts sought to change the use of his property from single family home to a community center/club and rezoning the town’s Village District.

The Planning Board said “it’s a great venue, just not the right area,” according to June 13 meeting minutes.

Bittar said Friday that the community has “been dying to have” a venue like the one he has built.

Bittar envisions the barn as a “true performance center” and said he has worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week on the property.

“People are interested in what’s going on here,” Bittar said. “The minute they walk in and see, they are going to love it.”

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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