A Gleason Road property that has been the subject of a court order for zoning violations since 2013 has been cleared as required, but the town has accrued about $14,000 in legal fees in the process, Edgecomb town attorney Bill Dale said at the Edgecomb Board of Selectmen’s Monday, Nov. 8 meeting.
Property owner Timothy Stephenson, of Southport, met with Dale and Edgecomb selectmen to determine how to finalize resolution of the legal dispute. Stephenson said he purchased the property for a commercial purpose, but could not obtain permits from the town for what he wanted to do.
Stephenson agreed to have the town’s legal fees added to his property taxes, which will give him a two-year time frame to pay the fees before the town could initiate foreclosure proceedings. Stephenson said he intends to sell the property.
In 2013, Edgecomb and Stephenson entered into a consent order that required Stephenson to clear the property, which was being used as an unpermitted junkyard/automobile graveyard, according to court documents.
Stephenson was also ordered to obtain a mineral/mining permit and wood-processing permit for the property.
The Edgecomb Planning Board ruled Stephenson’s permit applications incomplete, in part because Stephenson was unable to obtain a highway entrance permit from the Maine Department of Transportation for the driveway on Gleason Road, which is off Route 27, according to previous articles in The Lincoln County News.
While the property is zoned for mixed use, the DOT determined that the driveway to the property can only be used for residential purposes, Selectman Mike Smith said.
Stephenson complied with portions of the consent decree, however, three years after the decree was issued, the property still contained machinery, equipment, unregistered vehicles, and an assortment of other debris in violation of the decree, according to town officials.
Edgecomb returned to court in the spring of this year for violations of the court order. Stephenson was found in contempt and was given until September to clean the Edgecomb property; fines and fees for the violations were to be determined.
Selectmen and the code enforcement officer verified that the property had been cleaned as required, Dale said. “It was a little bit of a bumpy journey; it was a little bit of an expensive journey, but we got there,” Dale said. “To (Stephenson’s) great credit, it’s done.”
The town has the ability to ask the property owner to cover the town’s legal fees, in addition to the ability to pursue a fine, Dale said. Dale recommended that the town only pursue recouping its legal fees to avoid more time in court, and selectmen agreed.
“The bill up to this point has been paid by taxpayers,” Chair Jack Sarmanian said.
While Stephenson agreed to authorize Dale to file a motion in court to attach the cost of legal fees, about $14,000, to real estate taxes on the property, he expressed frustration about the town’s handling of the situation.
Stephenson said he felt “lied to” because he was under the impression he had the planning board’s approval to use the property for a commercial purpose when he purchased it, only to find out the driveway would not allow even a lawn-mowing business to operate from the property.
He also expressed anger toward Smith, an abutter to the property who initially notified the town about its use as an unpermitted junkyard, and toward Dale and other town officials for not providing him with documents he said he had requested.
“I’m going to sell the property. It’s clear (the town) doesn’t want to work with me,” Stephenson said. “If someone wants to buy it, I hope you’ll be helpful and work with them.”
“We tried to be fair,” Dale said after Stephenson left the meeting. “It’s clear he’s disappointed he couldn’t use the property as he wanted to.”