OWLS HEAD, Maine — The placement of a recreational vehicle several feet too close to a neighbor’s property line has been at the center of a more-than-decade-long land use dispute between the landowner and town.
On Tuesday, a judge ordered the Owls Head man, Eric Merchant, to pay the town $3,250 in legal fees and expenses related to the land-use enforcement case that dates back to 2001.
At issue is the town’s contention that a recreational vehicle used as a permanent living residence was placed too close to the neighboring property line on Water’s Edge Lane. The town’s zoning laws include a requirement that structures be 25 feet from property lines.
Town Attorney Frederick Newcomb said Tuesday that the RV was originally placed about 17 to 18 feet from the boundary line. He said an RV that is used as a residence and is located at the same place for more than 120 days is considered a structure under town zoning ordinances.
At a hearing held Tuesday in Rockland District Court, Judge John Kennedy asked the parties why this case has been in the court system for so many years. Newcomb said it was due to several factors, including bankruptcy on part of the defendant and that the defendant was incarcerated for a time and had his name changed in probate court.
Newcomb also noted that the case previously has been through District Court, Superior Court and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, where the justices sided with the town.
Merchant said the loss at the state high court was a procedural matter because he filed the appeal one day late. He said the court did not rule on the merits of his appeal.
Newcomb said the RV issue first arose in 2001. He acknowledged that Merchant moved the RV to within inches of compliance as far back as 2005 but has failed since to meet the law and apply for a building permit.
Owls Head Code Enforcement Officer Scott Bickford said he visited the property two weeks ago and found that the RV was now 25 feet from the boundary but that an attached enclosure, used to protect water pipes, was closer than the 25 feet.
Merchant had filed for a building permit in March 2002 but was denied because of being too close to the boundary line. He appealed to the town’s zoning board of appeals but the members rejected that request in August 2002.
Merchant said he has made every effort to comply with the town ordinances.
Judge Kennedy ruled that Merchant had made substantial efforts to comply but ruled that he should pay the town $3,250 for its legal and surveying expenses associated with the case. He also fined Merchant $500 but suspended all of it, saying the man did not have the income to pay the fine.
Merchant said his income amounted to Social Security disability.
When the case began, Merchant’s name was Eric Sloatman. That was changed to Merchant through a probate action in 2005. Sloatman was sentenced in 2009 to eight years in prison with all but 17 months suspended for gross sexual assault in 2003.
After the hearing, Merchant said he did not want to comment on the lengthy land use case.
Newcomb said this was the lengthiest land use enforcement case he has handled.