A Dover-Foxcroft man has attracted national and international attention after he sawed his neighbor’s garage in half over a boundary-line dispute.
Gabriel Brawn’s skillful Sawzall work might have attracted attention from Florida, to Scotland, to India, but it isn’t the first time — and it won’t be the last — that neighbors have found themselves in public disputes. Sooner or later everyone finds themselves living next to that neighbor who causes endless headaches. Or, as can happen, neighbors who once were on good terms find their relationship soured beyond recovery.
If that situation sounds a little too familiar, you’re by no means alone.
Here’s a look at six times disputes between neighbors got out of hand.
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Gabriel Brawn used a land surveyor’s demarcation between the two lots as a guide to remove the half of the building sitting on his land.
Where the buffalo roam
The tiny town of Chesuncook Village nestled on the shore of Maine’s third largest lake might seem a refuge from the world’s turmoil. But a rift between the town and a couple newcomers turned into an “ugly situation” in the early 2000s.
David and Luisa Surprenant moved to Chesuncook Village in 1999 after buying the Chesuncook Lake House, a lodge dating back to 1864 when it was used for supplying logging operations.
David Surprenant had been coming to Chesuncook since the 1950s and settled down full time so he and his wife could raise their kids for “a different lifestyle.” But the changes that followed them didn’t sit well with others in town.
First, the Surpreants brought several buffalo with them as a food source. Other property owners took issue with that when the Surpreants leased land in front of the town church where they pastured the buffalo.
“In small communities, you have little rifts, but everybody pulls together. Now somebody moves in from away and tries to change it into little Boston,” Alan Smart, president of the local camp owners association, told the BDN in 2005.
What really escalated the tension was when David Surprenant tried to close a portion of Chesuncook’s Main Road, saying it was on his property. Locals had used that section of road for decades and the dispute over it left everyone raw.
The Suprenants’ property had been targeted by vandals and they believed one of their buffalo was poisoned.
To resolve the dispute, Piscataquis County tried to reroute the road around the Surprenants’ property, but in 2006 the new segment was blocked with junked vehicles. In 2009, an agreement was reached to move the road.
Despite all the noise, some camp owners in Chesuncook saw the dispute over moving the road as “foolishness.”
“I don’t see an issue with [moving the road]; I think people are making a mountain out of a molehill,” one camp owner told the BDN in 2005.
Can’t get there from here
It could have started with a pig — neither side remembered — but it was a road that finally turned friends into bitter enemies.
At the center of the dispute was Abbott Pond Road, a dirt road in the Oxford County town of Sumner. The Lutz family claimed ownership of the road and that it was off limits to the public. But the Pothiers, who owned a pig and steer farm just a quarter mile down that road with an Abbott Pond Road address, challenged that, saying the road should be public.
So the dispute went for more than two years. It erupted publicly in Select Board meetings and even led to accusations of sexual harassment, thrown fists and a flashed handgun.
“I’ve never seen this kind of acrimony among neighbors,” Selectman Mary Ann Haxton told the Sun Journal in 2013.
The Sumner Select Board and Maine Department of Transportation agreed with the Lutzes that Abbott Pond Road isn’t a public road. Town officials said the confusion partly stemmed from the Pothiers being given an Abbott Pond Road address and when the town installed a roadsign to comply with 911 rules.
Even though Sumner opted not to wade further into the dispute, neither side was willing to take their case to court, because both could not afford it.
Doesn’t fit in
Not all things are meant to be. That’s what Jacob Boyington found out after a seven-year legal fight over the fate of his small Appleton house.
Jacob Boyington purchased the 0.18 acre lot from the town in 2008. But his neighbors challenged a building permit Boyington sought from Appleton, which was issued over their objections that the lot was too small and building too close to the road.
Boyington went ahead and built a 24-by-32-foot, two-bedroom home in 2010 while the court system considered his neighbors’ challenge to the building permit issued by the town. The house was built 15 feet from the road right of way while Appleton’s ordinance requires buildings to be at least 25 feet away.
A judge rescinded the building permit in 2011. The case continued to move about the court system, and in October 2014, the town’s code enforcement officer gave Boyington until the end of November to comply with town ordinances, meaning he would have to move or tear down the home.
In 2015, Boyington offered to pay a $2,500 fine rather than tear down or move his home, but ultimately was forced to move the house before discovering in 2016 that he could not build on the property.
‘Offensive acts and disturbances’
Parties, with their accompanying noise and commotion, can inevitably stir up trouble between neighbors. Such was the case in Northeast Harbor when billionaire Mitchell Rales sued abutting property owners for “ wrongfully holding parties” on a wharf and beach on his property.
Rales’ lawsuit — which named Coffeepot Realty LLC; Alexander, Paul and Peter Goriansky; The Winnestay LLP; John E. Anthony; and Elizabeth R. Rendeiro — alleged that the parties included “loud music, fireworks, crowds, nighttime activities, alcohol and other offensive acts and disturbances.” (The Gorianskys and Anthony were dismissed as defendants.)
At the center of the dispute was access to the wharf and beach. Rales, through Peabody Land LLC, argued that abutting property owners only have access to the beach and wharf on a specific path and that access is restricted to pedestrian traffic related to boating purposes only. Others have no such access rights whatsoever, according to the complaint.
That complaint was resolved in 2016 through a confidential settlement.
All stoved up
When tempers flare in a dispute, it can be easy to “cut off the nose to spite the face.” A similar situation unfolded in Aroostook County in 2016, when a Madawaska man and his family found themselves in a dispute with the town of Frenchville over who owned Pelletier Avenue.
Calvin Ouellette and his family maintained that part of the road is located on their farm, while Frenchville said it was a public way. Paving crews were preparing to work on Pelletier Avenue on Oct. 13, 2016, when they found their way blocked by a parked tractor-trailer.
A Superior Court judge, later that month, denied Ouellette’s motion to stop the paving project, saying there was “uncontroverted evidence” showing that the road has been in existence for “several decades” and has been mentioned as a public way.
Just three families live on the disputed section of Pelletier Avenue, although other residents also use the road to travel between Frenchville and Madawaska. Daily traffic averages out to about 200 vehicles per day over the year, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.
On Oct. 31, 2016, the situation escalated when Bruce Ouellette, Calvin’s brother, plowed up one lane of the road for approximately a quarter mile, making it nearly impassable for all but four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Ouellette was arrested and later sentenced to one year in prison with all but 10 days suspended after he was found guilty in 2018 on a charge of aggravated criminal mischief. He also was sentenced to serve one year of probation after he got out of jail. He was acquitted on charges of obstructing criminal administration and reckless conduct.
Super Soaker full of herbicide
A simmering dispute between an organic gardener and her Belfast neighbors over trees planted near a fence ended in 2017 with a Super Soaker full of herbicide.
Emily Rogals was accused of using the Super Soaker to spray the trees with Roundup under cover of darkness. The trees had been the center of a three-year dispute since her neighbors planted them after installing a fence on their property.
The fence and plantings were very close to the property owned by Rogals and her husband. Rogals later told a state pesticide inspector that the neighbors had not talked to them about planting the trees before doing so. She told the inspector that the trees shaded her driveway, causing it to ice up, and blocked the sun from her gardens.
The inspector collected samples of the soil and foliage, which tested positive for glyphosate, the herbicide in Roundup. Rogals denied ever using Roundup because she and her husband are “organic,” according to a Maine Pesticide Board document. But an investigation found her husband had purchased Roundup at Aubuchon Hardware Store in Belfast on several occasions in 2016 and 2017, as well as two hand-held pressure sprayers.
Rogals eventually admitted to spraying her neighbors’ trees with Roundup, according to Belfast police.
“She said she had got up in the night and filled a Super Soaker with Roundup. Apparently she had done more damage than she anticipated,” Deputy police Chief Gerry Lincoln told the BDN in 2019.