SKOWHEGAN, Maine — After nearly two years of frustration, the town of Palmyra had its day in court Monday with 81-year-old resident Raymond Phelps.
Selectman Mike Cray and town attorney Mark Beaumont sat in court across the room from Phelps in a hearing at Skowhegan District Court on Monday afternoon.
Phelps has lived on Oxbow Road since 1962, he said. He added a porch to his property more than two years ago, but according to the town, he didn’t have a permit to do so. He has been asked to take it down, but hasn’t yet.
The porch “was supposed to be [taken down] last May. Then it went a couple more months and he didn’t do it. Then a lawyer started the paperwork because he didn’t comply,” Gary Beem, chairman of the planning board, said earlier this month.
Palmyra has a 75-foot setback requirement from the centerline of Oxbow Road, said Beem, who also lives on that road. No one who lives on the road in that town is allowed to build within the setback.
Judge Peter Darvin seemed concerned that Phelps didn’t understand the ramifications if the town prevailed in the case.
“You’re potentially facing some significant financial penalties,” said Darvin.
“I’m 81 years of age. I don’t have the financial [resources],” responded Phelps.
Phelps didn’t have a lawyer and said that he couldn’t afford one. He asked to have a court-appointed attorney, but the judge denied his request because it is a civil case.
Darvin continued the case and said the next court hearing would be held within 45 days. However, he urged both sides to come to an agreement before then.
“It’s rare for these cases to go to a hearing,” said Darvin.
Cray said after the hearing that Palmyra is still interested in working with Phelps, but that the town has to enforce its ordinances.
“We’re not trying to take an 81-year-old man’s house,” said Cray. “We’re not trying to burden him with the hardship of fines and all that stuff with the court process. We just need him to comply with our ordinances, that’s all. We’re very, very willing to work with him. We’ve tried to do that the last two years.”
Phelps said he had a permit for the porch, but the town lost it. If Palmyra wins its case, he said he can’t pay any penalties.
“I’m going to go out in the backwoods and build me a shack out there [if the town wins],” said Phelps. “I’ll be there like a hermit.”
Phelps’ son Raymond Phelps III of Newport said he’s going to try to work with his father and the town to come up with a resolution.
The elder Phelps said he thought the problem went beyond just the ordinance. He said neighbors complained about his property.
“It’s ridiculous to have to put up with someone across the road who says I’m running a junkyard,” he said. “I have it all covered and all out of sight and sound [in the porch].”
Darvin ordered both sides to exchange evidence at least 10 days before the next court date.