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Originally published in The Weekly Packet, October 25, 2012
Unanimous vote by selectmen sets stage for possible land use truce

by Bette Britt

“We’ve got to get this moving,” said Sedgwick Second Selectman Colby Pert. “We’ve got to get something done,” acknowledged First Selectman Neil Davis. Together with Victor Smith, the three selectmen agreed that it was time to move forward, “the sooner the better,” with settlement of a long-standing land use issue which has lurched along since 2007.

It was Third Selectman Smith who made the motion to have Code Enforcement Officer Ed Michaels contact a southern Maine attorney who specializes in land use regulation to represent the town in handling violation of the 2010 case Lee W. Patten, Trustee of the Maine Trust, v. Town of Sedgwick. The vote taken at the close of the selectmen’s meeting on Thursday, October 18, was unanimous.

During the meeting, selectmen heard the new CEO’s presentation about the Patten property, received in communications from the Department of Environmental Protection earlier in the week. “This matter must be addressed by the Town of Sedgwick,” it stated, referring to violations of state and local shoreland ordinances by owners of the former Camp Four Winds and reminding readers that the DEP “assists municipalities with administration and enforcement of those ordinances.”

Michaels went on to recite details of work done on, and proposed for, three dilapidated buildings at the former girls summer camp on the shore of Walker Pond as well as legal issues surrounding the project. Although not a party to a court decision supporting permit denials by the planning board and board of appeals, the DEP informed selectmen in letters sent to the municipality that it “expects the Municipality to fully enforce the [shoreland] ordinance … [and] to require the landowner to enter into an agreement … regarding the proposed list of work.” If work should begin before an agreement is reached—and it has—the DEP letter indicated the town is expected to “take appropriate enforcement action.”

Michaels also updated his activity regarding the former camp property, including a meeting with “their contractor,” Bob Cote, and noting signs of soil erosion during a hasty inspection of work done. He appealed to selectmen to exert their authority and allow a change of counsel to pursue the “normal engineering process,” set a deadline for compliance with property owners and, if they don’t comply, to demolish the buildings.

“One of my jobs is to bring you guys together,” he told selectmen, acknowledging later that he’s “trying to make it so everyone wins.” But the process, he said, is like peeling onions; it’s done a layer at a time.

Whether about condition of buildings, change of use issues, deadlock between parties or cost for a different attorney who’s a “specialist,” selectmen didn’t withhold questions and comments. Nor did the CEO come up short on answers. After all was said and done, Michaels suggested that the ultimate result is to save the pond.

Davis concluded selectmen should be doing what’s best to win the lengthy land use stalemate for the town, but it was Smith, however, who summarized the situation by saying it had “been going on for eight years … maybe we need someone more aggressive. We don’t seem to be going anywhere this way.” He then made the motion, for which Davis supplied a second, then all three selectmen signaled willingness to follow a new plan of action.

In addition to the selectmen, the CEO and office assistant Barbara Grindle, Board of Appeals chairman Fred Marston, former CEO Duane Ford and retired selectman Nelson Grindle attended the meeting on October 18. Afterward, Marston termed action taken “a big step in the right direction” and indicated he felt comfortable with selectman Pert’s asking if the Board of Appeals would approve setbacks for the three shore-side cottages, saying it was “a reasonable suggestion.”