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News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, September 13, 2012
Attorney General weighs in on Patten property at Walker Pond
Town urged to enforce ordinance

by Faith DeAmbrose

Even though Sedgwick Code Enforcement Officer, Duane Ford, resigned his position last month, he is still getting mail at the town office. The most recent correspondence comes from the Department of Environmental Protection and seeks to add context to the ongoing legal matter at Walker Pond.

For the past few years, Ford has asked the DEP to weigh in on the 2010 ruling that ultimately found for the town as it denied rebuilding at the shoreline of the former girls’ camp property. Ford, in an interview Tuesday, September 11, said he is not sure why the DEP has chosen to finally respond.

“I have sent them stacks and stacks of communications,” he said, noting that they went mostly unanswered.

A letter dated August 30 and addressed to the town of Sedgwick from Stephanie MacLean of the DEP stated the DEP found that “the Town of Sedgwick has not adequately supported [Ford] in addressing this matter, as required by Town of Sedgwick Shoreland Zoning Ordinance last amended on 7 March 2008.”

When asked if he felt unsupported, Ford said the situation is “complicated.”

MacLean referred the matter to the office of Maine’s Attorney General who made findings and suggested multiple paths forward.

At issue is whether or not the owners of the former girls’ camp property have the ability to rebuild three cabins at the shore in light of a town assessment that found the windowless cabins to be more than 50 percent damaged. The amount of damage, according to the town’s Shoreland Zoning Ordinance, does not qualify the property for reconstruction nor does it allow for general maintenance and repairs to be conducted.

According to the DEP letter, “On 7 July 2012, you [Ford] requested information regarding whether the work done at the Patten camps is in violation of the [Shoreland Zoning] Ordinance and disregards the Superior Court decision in the case Lee W. Patten, Trustee of the Maine Trust, v. Town of Sedgwick, 2010. Regarding this case, the Department sought an opinion from Maine’s Attorney General’s Office.

The opinion from the AG is based on a review of the court documents and a reading of the town’s Shoreland Zoning Ordinance.

“Since the court determined that the structures were damaged or destroyed more than 50 percent of the market value due to dilapidation, any repair is inevitably reconstruction as described in Ordinance Section 12.C.3. Any repairs to Squall, Twister, and Directors cabins would not fall within repairs and maintenance as described in Ordinance Section 12.C.2. Before any repairs are made to the structures, the Planning Board or its designee would need to determine where each structure conforms to the shoreland setback to the greatest possible extent (Section 12.C.3).

“The Department understands that some repairs have been completed, while more repairs are proposed. It is recommended that you issue a notice of violation as soon as possible, requesting a meeting with the Pattens, to determine the end goal for these structures.

“The Department strongly recommends that the Municipality support [its CEO] in taking action to resolve this matter. This case, extending back to 2007, has cost both the Municipality and the Pattens considerable time and expense, and is known to many shoreland owners in the area. It would set a bad precedent to allow this matter to go unresolved. The Municipality must remain committed to its interpretation of its ordinance as it relates to this property, and which was affirmed by Superior Court.”

Selectmen at their August 23 meeting said they intended to bring the matter back in front of a judge for resolution. They met with town attorney Jim Patterson on Wednesday, August 29, in executive session to discuss a way forward, but no further information has been released.