L.L. Bean Inc. announced on Sunday that it will withdraw its support for a developer’s plan to build hundreds of new homes on property owned by the outdoor-gear retailer in Freeport.

The controversial project was far in the future – developers said the homes would be built over a period of up to 20 years – but residents opposed the idea, worried that it would irrevocably change the town.

“The process and plan for a joint project with the Town of Freeport and a local developer veered from our original good intentions,” L.L. Bean President and CEO Stephen Smith said in a letter to the community. “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.”

A proposal submitted by Portland-based KV Enterprises to the Freeport Planning Board calls for 329 single-family houses, 60 apartment units, 140 homes in 70 duplex buildings and another eight commercial lots in a 250-acre property off Desert and Old County roads.

The area stands to the west of Interstate 295 and includes a golf course, the Freeport Country Club, which the plan put in jeopardy.

At a planning board meeting this month, residents expressed concern that adding so many people to the town – potentially as many as 2,000 – would overwhelm municipal services and change the character of a community already struggling to preserve its rural feel.

A group of Freeport residents stands outside the Town Hall on Nov. 4 to protest plans for a 500-unit housing development in a largely rural part of town. Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record

Still, L.L. Bean says it wants to sell the land at some point in the future. In his letter, Smith said the company would work with the town in public forums to determine how best to divest itself of the property. L.L. Bean currently holds enough land in Freeport to make up about 8 percent of the tax base, he said.

“As we look to focus more on our core business – designing, making and selling quality products that help people get outside and being a leading employer in our state – we would still like to sell some of this property while contributing to the long-term viability of Freeport,” Smith said.

The developers, KV Enterprises, could not be reached with questions on Sunday. Their engineering firm, Sebago Technics, has been more visible in public discussions, but representatives there also couldn’t be reached for an interview.

Erin Clough, a lawyer and Freeport resident who organized a Facebook group opposing the plan, said concerned residents were excited by L.L. Bean’s decision and “cautiously optimistic” about future discussions.

“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,” she said in a telephone interview Sunday.

Before Sunday’s announcement, Clough said she had heard some community members express disappointment with L.L. Bean for going along with such a large development. But the company’s decision to pull back has reassured residents, Clough said.

“L.L. Bean has had a really close, symbiotic relationship with the community for decades, and so there were a lot of conflicting feelings,” she said, leading some to ask, “‘Does L.L. Bean still care about Freeport?'”

“And I think this shows that L.L. Bean does care about the community,” Clough said.

Freeport’s comprehensive plan, a document that articulates the community’s vision for the future use of its land and resources, is up for renewal in 2023.  Upcoming discussions about the use of L.L. Bean’s land may coincide with a larger conversation about where Freeport sees itself in years to come.

“I think everybody agrees that we do need to have more affordable housing – that came out of the discussions as a real need,” Clough said.

The development also would have required a zoning change to proceed, since the land is located between an industrial district and a rural-residential area. Developers had asked town officials to create a “transition zone” that would allow for residential housing and allow more homes per acre.

KV Enterprises had scheduled two virtual meetings next week in order to share ideas and facilitate community discussion about the potential zoning change and development. The meetings were planned for Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.; it’s not clear if they’re still on.

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