SACO – Demolition of the former Bay View Convent is nearly complete, despite a pending lawsuit from abutting property owners who oppose plans to create a subdivision on the oceanfront property.

Developer Tim Swenson is tearing down the 62-year-old convent and plans to divide the roughly 8-acre site into 14 buildable lots. In a contract zoning agreement with city officials, he was allowed smaller lot sizes in exchange for providing land for a public walkway, dedicated beach access for residents and a public bathroom.

But soon after demolition began in August, neighbors sued Swenson and city officials, arguing that the city shouldn’t have allowed some of the lots to be smaller than required under current zoning.

In April, Justice Paul Fritzsche ruled in favor of the city on one count of the lawsuit that challenged whether the contract zoning agreement had been negotiated legally. But four other counts questioning the legality of the contract zoning agreement and a Planning Board site plan approval are still pending.

Attorney David Lourie, who represents the neighbors, said his clients have tried to negotiate with the developer and the city.

“At one point my clients offered not to sue them if they would get rid of the public restroom right in front of my client’s home,” Lourie said.

Historically, the Good Shepherd Sisters allowed the public to use the beach in front of the convent. In recent years, the city put a portable toilet on the edge of the beach. The proposed bathroom would be in the same location as the portable toilet.

Lourie said his clients plan to appeal if the judge rules against them on the other counts.

City Development Director Peter Morelli said the lawsuit holding up the project is “frivolous.”

“The neighbors are gathering up everything to throw into a suit,” he said.

The developer has met all city requirements and the contract zoning deal secures public access to the beach, Morelli said.

“This is a very good thing for the city,” Morelli said.

The Good Shepherd Sisters order, formally called the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, had owned the site since 1949. The sisters operated the convent as a retreat, renting out most of the 76 bedrooms to groups and individuals. They sold the site to Melissa Remington in August 2009 for what was described as “close” to the $3.6 million asking price.

Swenson is developing the site, known as Estates at Bay View, for Remington. The 14 lots are estimated to sell for $500,000 to $1.5 million each.

Lourie has said that without the special contract zoning agreement, the developers would have had room for 10 to 12 lots.

Despite the pending lawsuits, Swenson said he moved forward with demolition this spring because the property was “looking very dilapidated.”

“We wanted to get that demolition done before summer hits so neither the tourists or the city residents will have to look at the debris,” he said.

The building, which once stood prominently on the oceanfront property, has been partially torn down. A portion of the building with a steel-beam frame was torn down Wednesday, and all that remains standing is an elevator shaft. Demolition will continue for up to six more weeks.

“Hopefully (that) will correspond with when we can get the judgment from the judge,” he said. “If that hasn’t come yet, we will clean up the site, cut the road in and continue to do some work.

“We can’t sell lots until (the lawsuit) is over and done with,” Swenson said.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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