April 23, 2018
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Dispute over dilapidated Owls Head building heads to court

Stephen Betts | BDN
Stephen Betts | BDN
This oceanfront structure in Owls Head is at the center of a land-use controversy.
By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

OWLS HEAD, Maine — A property owner whose permission to move a dilapidated building was overturned by a town board has turned to the courts to regain that approval.

An appeal on behalf of Doug Johnson was filed Wednesday in Knox County Superior Court. He seeks to overturn a decision of the Owls Head Board of Appeals that vacated an earlier decision by the town planning board to allow him to move the building.

The structure was built partly from the deck of a wooden tugboat used during World War II. Johnson wants to repair the building and enlarge the structure that is about 45 feet from the shore. But he first wants to move the building about 15 feet further from the shore.

Rockport Code Officer Scott Bickford questions whether it can be moved without collapsing and argues that if it can, the structure should be located further away from shore.

Bickford said he has no authority to condemn a building, saying that has to be done by action of the selectmen and the courts.

But because the structure is in such poor shape, he has classified it as a dangerous building. The town selectmen previously asked him to provide a list of dangerous buildings throughout town and he presented them that list last week, he said. He expects to meet with selectmen to discuss the list next month.

He said he believes it has been decades since anyone lived in the Johnson building.

The structure is grandfathered from a shoreland zoning requirement that it be located 75 feet from shore because it was built prior to creation of the zoning regulation. But Bickford said that if a nonconforming structure is moved it must be moved back as close to the 75 foot mark from shore as is practical.

The planning board held seven meetings on the issue before voting in March to rule that Johnson’s proposal to move it 15 feet met the requirement to the greatest practical extent. Bickford said Thursday that Johnson does not want to move it the full 75 feet because he plans on constructing a house at that location. The rebuilt structure would then become an extension to the house.

Neighbors Claire Perry and Jill Delaney filed an appeal in April of the planning board decision, stating that the relocation should have been the full 75 feet. The appeals board agreed and ruled on May 6 that the planning board had been in error.

In the court appeal, Johnson’s attorney Paul Gibbons of Camden argues that the compromise reached by the planning board was supported by competent evidence and that the planning board’s decision should be upheld by the court.


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