Palmyra taking 81-year-old man to court over his porch

Raymond Phelps, 81, of Palmyra is being sued by the town because an addition on his home and a porch are partly on the town right-of-way along Route 100.
Raymond Phelps, 81, of Palmyra is being sued by the town because an addition on his home and a porch are partly on the town right-of-way along Route 100. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 04, 2012, at 7:08 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 05, 2012, at 6:53 p.m.

PALMYRA, Maine — The town says it had no choice but to sue one of its oldest residents.

Raymond Phelps, 81, will have to appear in Skowhegan District Court later this month because his porch is violating town rules, according to Gary Beem, chairman of the planning board.

Phelps, who has lived on Oxbow Road on Route 11 since 1962, says he hasn’t been treated fairly by the town.

“Unfair. Mistreated,” Phelps said Tuesday while looking at the front of his house.

Phelps said the town asked him to take down the covered porch on the left side of his house because it was within 75 feet of the centerline of Oxbow Road. The town asked him to do that a year and a half ago, he said.

Because he has yet to do so, he now will have to face a judge for the alleged civil infraction.

Beem said the town has run out of options.

The porch “was supposed to be [taken down] last May,” said Beem. “Then it went a couple more months and he didn’t do it. Then a lawyer started the paperwork because he didn’t comply.”

Beem said Phelps agreed that he was in violation of the town ordinance and agreed to remove the porch.

“That’s been over a year and they keep giving him extensions,” said Beem. “He’s in violation and the town had bent over backwards to accommodate him.”

Phelps said this isn’t the first time he has had to make changes to his home to stay within town rules. A few years ago, he had to remove a roof he constructed over his front door because it was in violation. He said he needs protection over his porch because ice can build up and he can’t open the door.

“I don’t want to change it because I need a place where I need to walk around [that’s] level,” said Phelps, who added he sometimes needs a mechanical wheelchair to get around. “I’m at the age now where I can’t even walk down over the bank there.”

Because of the 75-foot requirement, it would be hard for Phelps to add anything to the outside of his house.

The ordinance guidelines “basically go to the back corner of his house,” said Beem.

Beem understands what Phelps has to deal with because he lives on the same road.

“None of us can [add to the front of our houses]. I can’t,” said Beem. “Most places in the state, the houses are in the right-of-way. Palmyra’s ordinance is 75 feet. I’m pretty sure it reads 75 for everybody [in town].”

Phelps said the town is allowing him to keep a wooden deck on the front of his house because it was grandfathered in before the ordinance passed years ago, but he can’t cover it. The 50-foot enclosed porch on the left side of his house would have to go, however.

Beem said the Board of Selectmen has been “very patient” with Phelps, but the tipping point had been met.

“They were trying to avoid going to court because no one wants to take an old man to court,” said Beem. “But when your back’s up against the wall, what are you going to do?

“They’ve more than tried to work with him. It’s out of our hands now. It’s up to a judge.”

Beem said he can’t remember a case when Palmyra had previously taken a resident to court because of land use violations.

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