Readfield officials have decided against taking immediate action in the wake of Bob Bittar’s barn concert on Millstream Road last Saturday that prompted complaints from neighbors and others.

But that hasn’t quashed lingering resentment and questions surrounding what kinds of event activities the town will allow in residential areas.

Town Manager Eric Dyer said Thursday that he met with both Gary Quintal, the town’s code enforcement officer, and Stephen Langsdorf, the town’s attorney, and that he plans to bring the issue to the Select Board.

Meanwhile, Bittar said Thursday he believes town officials are harassing him, and that he wants to offer music to the public and a place for musicians and others to gather.

“We’re trying to be deliberate, careful and slow,” Dyer said. “We’ve received several complaints about noise but also complaints about the use, using the property in way that has not been allowed,” he said, adding that some are concerned that Bittar appears to be flouting the rules governing his home occupancy permit.

The most recent concert was billed as a memorial to his late wife, Helen, who died in April. Bittar had assured town officials that the crowd would be no larger than 100 people.

Since Bittar received a home occupancy permit for the property July 19, he has been offering free concerts and serving free food to attendees in a barn he built as an addition to an older home that he renovated.

Dyer said he had no estimate of the attendance at Saturday’s concert; however, photos posted on the website of the Readfield Emporium, Bittar’s restaurant, which is located elsewhere in the town, show about 40 people during the intermission of the classical piano concert by soloist Chiharu Naruse.

Dyer said an additional concern for officials is that Bittar has announced two more events.

Bittar is seeking a change of zoning for his property and surrounding lots, and a Planning Board hearing on that issue is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Town Office. He’s hoping a zoning change to a “rural” classification would allow him to a nonprofit or commercial facility at his property.

Bittar said town officials also have objected to his use of the Readfield Emporium’s Facebook page as a way to announce the free concerts, but he intends to continue to use that medium to communicate his views to friends in Readfield and elsewhere he has known over the past 38 years. He also says he has musical events scheduled at the barn on almost every Thursday through Sunday through the end of October.

On the emporium’s Facebook page, recent posts appear to encourage people to attend Wednesday’s Planning Board hearing, saying: “Freedom at Risk / No Speech No Signs / Just show up.”

This image from the Readfield Emporium’s Facebook page shows some of the people who turned out Saturday night at a concert at Bob Bittar’s house. The photo was taken at intermission. Photo courtesy of Bob Bittar

Bittar also has filed a petition to get that zoning change proposal placed on the November ballot. He wants the Select Board to put the question of amending 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 owns two of them.

A letter from Quintal to Bittar dated Aug. 16 led to the cancellation of an Aug. 18 free concert/house-warming at Bittar’s barn.

Quintal wrote that Bittar needed a mass gathering permit because there were indications more than 500 people planned to attend, a threshold triggering the need for a mass gathering permit, which Bittar had not sought.

“Use for concerts and the 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 of the Town of Readfield,” Quintal wrote.

The Kennebec Journal had reported Aug. 11 that the show would go on despite a lack of a permit for a commercial concert venue.

Dyer said Thursday that Bittar is permitted to have parties and other gatherings at his home, but no commercial operations.

Bittar, 78, has long sought permission to offer music at the site, submitting an application to the Planning Board at one point to operate a town event and community center. He later withdrew that application after some neighbors and other residents voiced opposition March 1 at a public hearing.

Bittar’s property is in the rural residential district, which “accommodates low density residential use, agriculture and forestry operations which are compatible with the preservation of Readfield’s rural character, and which are protective of sensitive natural resources and scenic/visual quality,” according to the town’s Land Use Ordinance.

“The idea of having an event center in a rural residential zone is not consistent with zoning,” Dyer said previously.

In Readfield’s rural residential district, restaurants, bars, and civic and convention centers are not allowed, but clubs and community centers are. They require site plan review from the Planning Board as well as a permit from the code enforcement officer and local plumbing inspector.

Bittar’s goal to use the building as a nonprofit community center or club was stymied in June when the Planning Board rejected his application to change the use of his property from a single-family home to a community center or club.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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