BRUNSWICK — A group of Brunswick residents has filed a lawsuit against the town to try to prevent the Town Council from selling a piece of waterfront property.

The lawsuit calls for the town to accept a petition with more than 1,100 signatures of residents demanding to let voters decide the fate of land at 946 Mere Point Road in a townwide referendum. The roughly 4-acre property was acquired by the town after the previous owner failed to pay property taxes for several years, and some residents want it turned into a park. The property is assessed at about $250,000 and has a derelict building that would have to be torn down by a new owner.

Brunswick’s council previously voted 5 to 4 to sell the property after much debate about whether it should be used for public access to the water. Councilors later voted to reject the petition in a 7 to 2 vote.

The lawsuit was filed shortly before the council’s regular meeting Tuesday, catching councilors and Town Manager John Eldridge by surprise. It asserts that the council did not follow the Town Charter when it rejected the residents’ petition.

“You’ll recall two weeks ago that petitioners did advise the council that they would consider legal actions,” said Robert Baskett, representing the recently formed Brunswick Citizens for Collaborative Government.

The lawsuit came after residents incorporated the citizens group and got donations from more than 40 people to retain legal counsel.

“I think the fact that we’ve been able to form a legal entity, collect funds, hire an attorney, and file this action … is a real testament to how important this issue remains to Brunswick voters,” said Baskett.

A news release by the residents group questions why the council would reject the petition.

“It’s baffling as to why the council would want to limit citizen input,” said Brunswick resident Mark Latti. “There is no other piece of property like it left in Brunswick, and yet the council does not want to put this to a town-wide vote.”

Councilors rejected the petition on the advice of the town’s attorney, Stephen Langsdorf, who had warned petitioners that the Town Charter, in his opinion, did not have a mechanism to allow a direct order of the council to be overturned by petition.

“A petition of this nature is not meant to overturn orders and resolves,” said Langsdorf. “I do not think there are any rights under state law to proceed.”

Despite the lawsuit, councilors at Tuesday’s meeting discussed how the sale of the property would take place. A few initial ideas, such as requiring the residence to be a single-family home and creating an easement for shellfish harvesters, were debated at length.

Councilor Sarah Brayman suggested the town retain a 25-foot strip of property to the waterfront in order to allow access by shellfish harvesters and possible aquaculture operations. Her motion failed 4 to 4, with Councilor Dan Harris absent from the meeting.

In the end, councilors decided to eliminate the requirement for a single-family home, agreeing that anything that meets zoning requirements would be allowed. In addition, an easement for access to the waterfront for clammers was not included in the order authorizing the sale of the property.

Eldridge said he was not worried about the possible lawsuit affecting the town’s plans.

“Clearly there’s going to be a request to stay any action the council wants to do, but until we receive that from the court, council can proceed,” said Eldridge. “We haven’t been served with anything that would prevent us from going forward.”

Chris Chase can be contacted at:

[email protected]