PHIPPSBURG, Maine — Maine State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin was not present Thursday evening when the Phippsburg Board of Appeals upheld a December decision by two town boards that allows him to expand his private beach club.
The meeting took place less than a week after Maine’s attorney general advised Poliquin, the sole owner of the private Popham Beach Club, to “disassociate” himself from management of companies he owns and to not appear before governmental bodies on behalf of those entities.
The Board of Appeals on Thursday found little merit in a seven-point appeal filed by Jean and Terry Wyman, whose property abuts Poliquin’s club near Popham Beach State Park.
Terry Wyman, who sat with his wife and attorney James Haddow in the front row at Thursday’s meeting, said Friday that the “tone and demeanor” of the board may prompt him to take the issue to court.
Poliquin, of Georgetown, appeared before the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board at a Dec. 8 public hearing to request a new permit that would allow his Popham Beach Club to hold catered functions throughout the year and to allow use of the club by non-members.
He said at the time that the expanded use would improve cash flow at the club, which since it was built four years ago had sold only eight memberships, the Bangor Daily News reported at the time.
Following the six-hour meeting, the two boards granted the club a conditional permit allowing the increased use. That move occurred despite objections from a number of neighbors who argued, among other issues, that the new permit would increase noise and traffic and reduce property values, according to meeting minutes.
On Thursday, Haddow reiterated those complaints and added others, including what he called “procedural defects” that he said the town made in granting the expanded permit.
Among Haddow’s complaints were that Poliquin was allowed to participate in deliberations after the public hearing portion of the Dec. 8 hearing was closed. The Wymans were not present at the time to answer statements made by Poliquin in response to questions from the board members, Haddow said.
“It’s been routine that after the Planning Board closes the public portion of the meeting, they’re allowed to ask questions of the people in the audience, which is exactly what happened in that meeting,” Board of Appeals member Storrs Bigelow said.
But Haddow said only Poliquin was asked to “give additional unanswered evidence.”
Asked by appeals board member John Morse if that evidence “swayed” the decision, Haddow said, “We have no way of knowing that. In any proceeding that is supposed to be unbiased, when a participant gets access to the decision maker that is one-sided, that taints the process.”
“Do you think a judge would rule in your favor?” Morse asked.
Haddow said he did.
The board also disagreed with the Wymans’ contention that Poliquin failed to comply with a condition of the original business permit requiring him to plant a buffer of trees between the club and the Wymans’ property.
The board upheld the Dec. 8 decision, finding that neither these nor the Wymans’ other complaints had merit.
Board members did remand to the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen a call to include in the permit a condition limiting the club’s hours of operation to 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., as was discussed at the Dec. 8 meeting.
Wyman said Friday morning that he and his wife represent “a large number of Popham residents” who feel the Popham Beach Club has created “an adverse impact on our family and the neighborhood.”
“Poliquin’s claim of being a good neighbor is certainly a joke, but we are not laughing,” Wyman said. “I can’t understand why everyone is so anxious to accommodate Poliquin when he didn’t even fulfill the conditions of his initial permit — that being creating an adequate buffer between our properties. That was pivotal in his initial approval of the beach club. Incredibly, the board blamed us by saying we didn’t complain.”
Asked if he intended to pursue the issue in court, Wyman said plans are “up in the air … but certainly the tone and the demeanor of the board members is a motivation to move forward to the next level.”
Barbara Boyce, the club’s manager, attended Thursday’s meeting, but Poliquin was not present. He did not return phone calls from The Times Record placed on Thursday.
On Feb. 10, Attorney William Schneider issued a five-page response to a request from state Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, which sought an opinion on whether the state treasurer violated the state constitution by engaging in commerce while in office. Dion’s letter cited Poliquin’s actions related to the Popham Beach Club permit application.
Schneider said Poliquin “should take steps to disassociate himself from the active management of any of the entities in which he is invested and any entities in which he is the sole owner or principal or agent. Furthermore, he should not appear before any governmental bodies on behalf of entities that he owns.”