Judge orders Appleton building permit rescinded

Posted Feb. 21, 2011, at 9:33 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 22, 2011, at 10:10 a.m.

APPLETON, Maine — Although a Knox County Superior Court judge finally has made a decision in a property dispute case against the town that was filed nearly two years ago, both parties involved said this week that they are left with more questions than answers.

In the decision, Justice Jeffrey Hjelm ordered the town to take back a building permit for a home that already has been built.

“It’s difficult to be in limbo,” said Jacob Boyington, whose company, Appleton Ridge Construction, owns the two-bedroom home built over a garage on Route 131, or Searsmont Road. “I followed all the steps in good faith … It’s very difficult to not know if some kind of action’s going to be taken against my property.”

The dispute began in 2009 over the construction of the new building on a 0.18-acre, nonconforming parcel of land. The parcel originally had been home to a decrepit trailer, and when it was foreclosed upon by Appleton and sold at auction for $4,100, Boyington knocked it down and began building a house there.

Neighbors Patrick and Lorie Costigan and Paul and Rita Gagnon believed that the parcel was too small for such a use and appealed the building permit that Boyington had received from Appleton Code Enforcement Officer Bob Temple. The town’s Board of Appeals consulted with the Maine Municipal Association and town attorney before determining that it did not have the authority to decide the neighbors’ appeal.

Hjelm handed down a ruling in the civil court case Feb. 9 that affirms the Board of Appeals’ decision not to consider the neighbors’ plea. He also determined that the code enforcement officer had erred in issuing the permit to allow construction of the building.

“The court reverses the issuance of the building permit as amended by the Town of Appleton Code Enforcement Officer to Appleton Ridge Construction, LLC,” Hjelm wrote. “These matters are remanded to the CEO with instructions to rescind the permit as amended and to deny the permit application.”

Neighbor Lorie Costigan, one of the four plaintiffs in the case, said this week that she was not surprised by Hjelm’s decision.

“The judge read the town’s ordinance as clearly and simply as we did,” she said Friday. “We continue to be surprised that the town can continue to turn a blind eye to the actions of one resident while continuing to turn a deaf ear to the concerns of others.”

She said that when she and her husband purchased their farm in 2007, they did so with the understanding that the tiny adjacent parcel with the condemned trailer could not be built upon because Appleton had adopted a minimum lot size for all properties more than 20 years ago.

“We specifically inquired about the state of that property and were told it was a nonbuildable lot,” Costigan said.

A few months after Boyington purchased the lot at auction, she said, she saw that the town had granted a building permit that appeared to have inaccuracies, and she requested that the code enforcement officer correct it to reflect the true size of the property. This did not happen, Costigan said.

“I’m a Knox County native. My family’s been here for generations. Our request was simple and direct,” she said. “The stonewalling that took place that has gotten to this point is just ludicrous.”

She said one of the primary ways the building has affected her is the simple fact that she feels that the town has not acted in accordance with its own ordinances.

“I think citizens should be able to expect that they all live under the same set of laws and ordinances,” she said.

Appleton has a population of about 1,300. Boyington is the nephew of Donald Burke, the chairman of the Board of Selectmen, and Boyington himself is on the board of appeals.

When asked to respond to concerns that his building project might have received preferential treatment, Boyington firmly rejected the notion.

“Any dealings I’ve ever had with the town have been completely aboveboard,” he said. “I’ve had no preferential treatment or special treatment from the town.”

Donald Burke, chairman of the Appleton Board of Selectmen, said Thursday that the board needs to discuss the issue with town attorney John Carver of Belfast before deciding whether they want to appeal the decision.

Because board members had not received a copy of Hjelm’s decision until after their last regular meeting Feb. 15, Burke said they had not yet talked about how to proceed.

At the Tuesday, Feb. 22, meeting, he anticipates that board members will explore the issue. Last year, Appleton raised money at a special meeting to pay for Carver’s initial legal fees, he said. Unlike some larger communities, the town pays the regular hourly rate for attorney services, according to Burke, who said he could not remember how much was raised or how much is left.

Burke also denied that the town had given any direction to Temple, the code enforcement officer.

“We don’t tell him what to do,” he said.

The town has 21 days from the filing of the civil action to determine whether or not it will appeal Hjelm’s decision.

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