Fencing surrounds the former Railroad Square Cinema and Buen Apetito restaurant in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — The owners of Buen Apetito plan to move the restaurant out of its rented space at the former Railroad Square Cinema building on Chaplin Street over a disagreement about parking that has resulted in the parking lot’s owner erecting a fence along the building.

Railroad Square Cinema had been paying monthly rent to parking lot owner Richard Parkhurst for use of the lot, but the cinema moved recently to the new Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville.

Buen Apetito, which is part of the former cinema building, was paying rent to the cinema for the restaurant space at 4 Chaplin St. The building was sold about a year ago to Bill Bodwell of Brunswick.

Buen Apetito’s use of the parking lot, as described in its lease with the cinema, had been paid for by the cinema, according to Susan Laplant, who owns the restaurant along with her husband, Gary.

The Laplants said they understood that under the building’s new ownership, they would be responsible for paying a fee for use of the parking lot once the cinema relocated, and Bodwell would be responsible for signing a parking lot rental contract with Parkhurst, according to Susan Laplant. The contract was to take effect in January, she said.

Laplant said she and her husband communicated in writing to Bodwell in August, September and October, asking if their offer and terms for use of the parking lot had been accepted by Parkhurst, but they received no response. Parkhurst owns another building at the Railroad Square complex that houses businesses.


In late October, the Laplants sent another query to Bodwell, expressing their concerns about a lack of progress in formalizing a parking lot rental agreement, according to Laplant.

“We offered at this time to negotiate with Mr. Parkhurst directly,” she said. “We additionally expressed concerns about repairs that needed to be made to the building, and our hesitation in moving forward with them without a mutual understanding of whose responsibility they would be.”

Bodwell forwarded a counteroffer in November that Parkhurst sent in response to the Laplants’ original offer and terms for use of the parking lot and the Laplants confirmed acceptance of the offer, she said.

“There was, however, an outstanding issue of how the cost of parking lot lighting, also owned by Mr. Parkhurst, would be split between us and the building’s owner,” she said. “We were under the impression that Mr. Bodwell had agreed to the fee that Mr. Parkhurst had set, and that further negotiation of how the fee would be split would be carried out privately between us and Mr. Bodwell. We were under the impression that as far as Mr. Parkhurst was concerned, the matter had been settled.”

Then last Thursday, the Laplants arrived at the restaurant and were stunned to see Parkhurst had erected a fence adjacent to it, effectively blocking access to the eatery, she said.

“We were forced to cease operations that day,” Laplant said. “On Dec. 10, we spoke directly with Mr. Parkhurst, who confirmed that the fence was meant to communicate that he would no longer wait for compliance in signing an agreement from Mr. Bodwell.”


Since the fence was installed, the Laplants have reached an amicable agreement with Parkhurst to continue using the parking lot through Dec. 23, which will be their last day of operation at the building, Laplant said.

She said they cannot continue to operate with Bodwell “under such opaque terms of building management and occupancy.”

“We will, therefore, be looking for a new venue from which to operate,” Laplant said, “and will keep our patrons abreast of any new developments.”

She said she and her husband are grateful to Parkhurst for enabling them to remain operational until Dec. 23, which allows their employees to continue earning pay and ensures no perishable inventory goes to waste. Business hours could be affected by adverse weather because the parking lot will not be plowed this winter, Laplant said, and patrons might see updates on Buen Apetito’s Facebook page.

But the Railroad Square Association, which represents the interests of businesses operating at the square, was more critical of Parkhurst’s move.

“It is unfortunate that this situation has occurred due to the request of newly established parking fees requested by the parking lot owner,” the association said in a statement. “This has been a communal parking lot for the surrounding businesses for decades with no issues. Patrons have been allowed to park in any parking spaces that are available while visiting any of the businesses in our complex without fear of being towed. With an inability to decipher who is parking for which business at any given time, we feel the requested fees are unfair.”


Parkhurst declined to comment for this story, but Bodwell said Monday he feels bad for the Laplants and their employees.

“I used to own a small restaurant like the Laplants,” he said. “You work very hard.”

He said Parkhurst owns the parking lot on both sides of his building, and a doctor’s complex owns the parking on another side. Bodwell has only a handful of parking spaces.

He said he did not want to speak for Parkhurst or share details of their discussions.

“We were going to rent a smaller amount of parking for the restaurant and, unfortunately, we just didn’t get the deal done,” Bodwell said. “It’s going to be tough without parking.”

Bodwell said he is exploring options for use of his building.


“I had hoped that the Laplants would stay and continue to operate there,” he said, “and it wasn’t possible.”

Bodwell said that when he bought the building, he had the idea of opening a music school for children, regardless of income, and collaborate with people in the music field to make that happen. The COVID-19 pandemic made that difficult to establish, he said.

“We can’t do a music school without parking,” Bodwell said. “This is all pretty new and raw for me. This just happened last week.”

Bodwell said he had hoped to add performing arts into the mix as part of the music school, to complement the arts happening in downtown Waterville. He said he has spoken to the city planning and code enforcement offices about possibilities. The recent situation has complicated matters, he said.

“It was a really hard week last week,” Bodwell said. “It was very stressful. I think we were all surprised to see the fence. I thought we had more time to put an agreement together. I thought things were going to work out fine, and last week we were all pretty much in shock when that option was gone and we have what we have.”

Kennebec Medical Consultants owns another building on the property. It is not clear if it pays a rental fee to Parkhurst for parking. A call placed to its office for comment Monday was not returned.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Tuesday, Dec. 13, with comment from the Railroad Square Association.

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