Federal aviation restrictions halt log cabin village in Caribou
CARIBOU, Maine — Developers of Maine’s first log cabin village are looking for a different location after Caribou eliminated the use of airport land.
Caribou City Manager Penny Thompson said the non-aviation nature of the proposal would jeopardize federal funding for the airport.
Aroostook County is hampered by limited lodging options during large-scale events. Developers Troy Haney and Jim Gammage discovered this when this winter they staged the region’s first snowmobile festival, which attracted 8,000 to 10,000 people. Even before the event, Haney and Gammage heard stories of visitors struggling to find available rooms. Given the county’s reputation as a major snowmobile and ATV hub, businessmen saw the log cabin village as one step toward a solution.
“We are looking for an area that is accessible by trails and close to restaurants and shops,” Haney said.
If built, the village could include an initial 20 cabins, with their own kitchens, bathrooms, air conditioning and heating units, furniture, and covered porches. Each cabin sleeps four to eight people. The nearby clubhouse will include laundry facilities, showers, bathrooms, a convenience store and a lounge area.
Earlier this year, Haney and Gammage proposed a 7 1/2-acre vacant lot on the grounds of the Caribou Municipal Airport as an ideal location. The land previously housed the Caribou Trailer Park, which is scheduled to close in July, and is located near the Caribou trail system and downtown.
But Haney and Gamage are now looking for a more rural location, preferably in Caribou, that won’t conflict with airport regulations.
The airport’s first two landing strips were built in 1929. For decades, Caribou relied on Federal Aviation Administration grants to fund the expansion of the hangars and runway.
This means the city’s airport master plan calls for potential expansion of aviation facilities rather than non-aviation uses, Thompson said.
Brittany Trotter, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said residential units, even in the short term, are not the type of development the agency considers appropriate for an airport.
“The city must ensure that the airport planning plan accurately reflects future development plans,” Trotter said.
Development that could better support airport operations could include aircraft maintenance shops or warehouses, Thompson said.
“All funds generated from the airport land must remain at the airport to continue airport operations and maintenance,” she said.
The city’s former trailer park had been there since the 1970s only after the city acquired the parcel through unpaid taxes and added it to the airport.
The aviation department does not have final say in project development, but may withhold funding for future aviation projects if it feels Caribou is pursuing inappropriate development, Thompson said.
Since the city owns the airport, the Cariboo City Council would need to approve development there. The city opposes placing cabins on airport land.
Citizen Airport Advisory Committee Chairman John Carwood wrote to the council that Haney and Gammage’s proposal is inconsistent with the airport’s master plan, which targets potential aviation development.
“The area (proposed for log cabins) is designated in the plan to be ideal for the construction of hangars and aviation-related businesses,” Carwood wrote.
Caribou Municipal Airport has two hangar buildings – one that can store two aircraft and one that can hold six aircraft. Another building has one private barn.
The city does not track how many pilots use the hangars because there are no landing fees. But pilots have shown increased interest in landing in Caribou due to the city’s central location in Aroostook, according to Thompson.
Councilor Dan Bagley, chair of the council’s airport committee, said the proposed village’s proximity to the runway raises other concerns. The cabins will be near existing snowmobile and ATV trails, but a trail must be created between the cabins and trails. That could put riders closer to the runway, Bagley said.
Both airport committees are concerned about noise from snowmobiles and ATVs that could disturb nearby residents, Bagley said.
“(The two airport committees) agreed that they needed to look for a different location for the cabin concept,” Bagley said. “Specifically, in a rural area and preferably near an existing portion of the trail system.”
Both Bagley and Carrold said their committees support Haney and Gammage’s overall idea, but not at the airport.
Haney did not respond directly to the committees’ concerns, but he did not give up his quest to solve Aroostook’s housing problems.
He is building a campground near the Cariboo Riverfront, which he plans to open this summer with nine RV and campsites. He sees the log cabin village as another tool to attract more visitors.
“We see a need for housing. There are hotels that have been renovated with new owners but have not expanded,” Haney said. “Log cabins will be a unique option for people.”