OWLS HEAD, Maine — The town of Owls Head and neighbors have the right to cross the waterfront property owned by a New York couple, a state judge has ruled.
Justice Jeffrey Hjelm ruled Wednesday that Owls Head had a public easement across 300 feet of property that Darlene F. and Lewis M. Edwards III of Saugerties, New York, had claimed was their driveway.
Hjelm also ruled that neighbors have the right to cross the property and to have access to the beach.
Since the Edwardses filed their lawsuit in November 2011, residents have twice voted at town meetings to support spending money to defend the town’s interests. Many of the citizens who spoke at those meetings said the town needed to send a message to people from out of state who own property near the water that the town also has rights.
In December 2011, nearly 100 people turned out to approve spending $50,000 and in March 2012, 54 people turned out to agree to spend an additional $15,000.
Owls Head Selectwoman Linda Post said Thursday that the town has spent a little more than $75,000 in legal fees on the case.
Post said she was pleased with the ruling. She said she did not want to comment further until after the full board meets Monday afternoon so a joint statement could be issued.
Neighbor Eliot Scott said he was ecstatic about the ruling. He said he hopes the Edwardes do not appeal the decision.
“Now everybody can go back to being a friendly community and let bygones be bygones,” Scott said.
A telephone message left late Thursday morning with the Edwardses’ attorney, David Soley of Portland, was not immediately returned.
The Edwardses purchased a 1.7-acre lot at the end of Coopers Beach Road in March 2011 for $274,300 after a bank foreclosed on the previous owners.
In November of that year, they filed their lawsuit, claiming there was no easement and that neighbors were trespassing.
Coopers Beach Road runs from North Shore Drive to near the harbor.
Justice Hjelm said that Coopers Beach has been described as a colony, for good reason.
“Homeowners, both year-round and seasonal, have developed strong friendships with each other. As an aspect of the relationships among them, they sometimes walk on or otherwise use each other’s property. Families visited with each other, and there were neighborhood parties and events,” Hjelm stated in his ruling.
He also stated that use of the beach by local residents was a long-standing practice.
He ruled that the record shows that the neighbors have the right to use the intertidal area of the beach, that the Edwardses own, for bathing and boating purposes.
The town had argued that it received a public easement over Coopers Beach Road at an August 1986 town meeting.
John McLoon, who owned the property at the time, signed a petition circulated by abutters in support of a public easement. Those neighbors had signed the petition after the town decided it could no longer plow snow on the private roads without a public easement.
The Edwardes had claimed that they owned about 300 feet of what they call their driveway, but the town maintained it is part of that public easement.
The neighbors who were part of the lawsuit were Cynthia S. Blackman, Elio A. Scott, Nathalie M. Scott, Willis A. Scott Jr., and Constance Scott.
A trial was held in December on the case before Hjelm.