Small town dispute over land going to Superior Court

Posted July 08, 2009, at 10:43 p.m.

APPLETON, Maine — A dispute over the construction of a new home on a non-conforming parcel of land on the Searsmont Road will be aired in Knox County Superior Court.

Lorie and Patrick Costigan, whose property is adjacent to the controversial parcel, had a summons served Tuesday on the town of Appleton. They had filed a complaint on the civil matter last month.

Donald Burke, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said Wednesday that the town might have to hold a special town meeting to raise money for attorney’s fees in order to defend itself.

The events leading to the dispute began last August when a small lot that had been foreclosed upon by Appleton was sold at auction for $4,100, according to town officials. The parcel originally was home to a decrepit trailer and a malfunctioning septic system, said both Lorie Costigan and Appleton Code Enforcement Officer Bob Temple.

But that may be one of the few areas of agreement.

Costigan claims that the parcel is just .18 acres — much too small to construct a new home. But Temple issued a permit for the parcel’s new owner to replace the trailer with a house. In April, Jacob Boyington, who bought the parcel at auction and also is on the town’s board of appeals, knocked down the trailer and started to construct a house.

The Costigans and two other neighbors appealed the permit and said that they believe, among other arguments, that the permit was inaccurately filled out, which “more than tripled” the lot’s actual dimensions. The appeals board ruled that it doesn’t have jurisdiction over the code enforcement officer’s decisions.

“The best resolution would be that the town ordinances were upheld,” Costigan said. “There was no way this new structure was going to meet the ordinances. That’s a problem. And it’s a problem for Appleton.”

Temple, who issued the permit, wondered what would happen in court.

“Is the judge going to tell him to tear [the house] down?” Temple asked. “[The Costigans] had an option to buy it and didn’t buy it. I acted on what I felt is right, and they felt I’m wrong.”

Appleton is small — Boyington also happens to be the nephew of Burke, the chairman of the Board of Selectmen. Efforts to reach Boyington Tuesday and Wednesday were unsuccessful. Burke and other members of the Appleton Board of Appeals said that Burke and Boyington were careful to recuse themselves from decisions involving the property.

Costigan, however, is dissatisfied with how the town has handled her concerns.

“It’s ironic to watch how a very simple request can basically be bulldozed,” she said.

Stan Millay, chairman of the Appleton board of appeals, said he understands that the situation is “frustrating” for the Costigans and the other neighbors involved, Paul and Rita Gagnon, but that the Maine Municipal Association and the town’s attorney advised that the appeals board doesn’t have the authority in this matter.

“Their only step, as far as I can see, is to go to court,” Millay said. “The Costigans and the Gagnons, no matter how you feel about it, have a right to have it heard and settled at the town level. As far as I’m concerned, I’d like it to get done, because it’s just festering there.”

It isn’t the first time that Appleton has been sued over property — 10 years ago, a case involving property the town took over for taxes went all the way to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. In that instance, the town prevailed, Burke said.

In this case, some aren’t willing to predict the outcome — and Boyington has continued to build on the lot, according to Millay.

“I’d be nervous, if I were him,” Millay said.

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