Tuesday, December 10, 2013
By Ann S. Kim email@example.com
Waterfront property owners at Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport would be able to exclude others from a 25-foot-wide "reserved area" under a proposal that will go to voters Aug. 20 -- the day a related lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial.
A path leads to a section of public beach at Goose Rocks in Kennebunkport. A proposed ordinance would establish a reserved area that extends 25 feet from any participating beachfront property’s sea wall toward the water.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
The proposal came from a court-assisted mediation process this summer, associated with the lawsuit the property owners filed against the town in 2009.
The plaintiffs say the town violated their property rights by allowing public access to privately owned areas. The town counters that the area in question is public.
The proposed ordinance would establish a reserved area that extends 25 feet from any participating beachfront property's sea wall, or the edge of the landscaped area, toward the water.
The public could walk in the area, but would not be allowed to keep watercraft or equipment there without permission. People would have to leave if asked to do so by a property owner.
If water covers part of the reserved area around high tide, the width would shrink to 10 feet for an hour before high tide until an hour after high tide.
The town would enforce property owners' use of the reserved area and could provide increased foot patrols from June 15 through Labor Day. The town also would be responsible for providing information about the reserved area to the public.
Kennebunkport's attorney, Amy Tchao, said the proposal is the product of a community-wide process. She said all parties in the case -- more than 200 in all -- were invited to take part in the settlement conference overseen by Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton.
"Everybody definitely showed up and participated in good faith for a settlement," said Durward Parkinson, a lawyer who was hired as a mediator by the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, which owns some waterfront lots at the beach.
The vote on the ordinance and an accompanying beach-use agreement for the parties in the lawsuit will be held at a special town meeting on Aug. 20, starting at 7 p.m. at the Consolidated School.
For the ordinance and agreement to take effect, the owners of at least 60 of the 109 beachfront lots at Goose Rocks Beach would have to sign on to the agreement. There are more than two dozen plaintiffs, and none had signed on as of Thursday.
"Hopefully many plaintiffs -- all the plaintiffs -- will come on board with the plan," Tchao said.
Sidney "Pete" Thaxter, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not return calls Thursday or Friday.
The town meeting will be held on the day the case is scheduled to go to trial before Superior Court Justice G. Arthur Brennan. The trial will be held in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland for logistical reasons.
The trial is to be held in two parts, with the first addressing use of the beach by the public and non-waterfront lot owners around Goose Rocks Beach. The second part is to focus on claims to the land. That part of the trial has yet to be scheduled.
The plaintiffs contend that their properties extend to the low-water mark. The town maintains that it owns the beach from the sea wall to the low-water mark, and that longstanding practice has established the public's right to use those parts of the beach.
For waterfront lot owners who sign on to the agreement, the town and property owners who aren't on the waterfront would release their claims to the disputed areas.
More than 130 of Gregg Frame's clients have signed the beach-use agreement. Frame represents owners of about 180 properties, all but two of which are non-waterfront lots. Many are from families who have been at Goose Rocks for generations, and all joined the lawsuit to fight for public use of all parts of the beach -- from the dry sand to the water.
"The lion's share see it as not as good as they hoped to get at trial, better than the worst-case scenario at trial and also a reasonable approach," he said of the proposal.
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: