FREEPORT — The Town Council decided Tuesday to pursue court-ordered fines of $500 a day against a nonprofit foundation whose 113-foot schooner sits on property along Bucknam Road in violation of town zoning.

The town sued the Island Rover Foundation for allegedly violating a 2014 consent agreement that said the ship must be moved from the town’s Medium Density Residential zone, where Harold Arndt began building the ship more than 20 years ago. Construction was allowed until Arndt put the project under the auspices of the nonprofit foundation in 2005. The vessel has never touched the water.

In August, the vessel was moved about 30 yards from its location on Lower Flying Point Road to private Bucknam Road, adjacent to the original property. Both locations are in the same residential zone.

In October, Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren ruled that the foundation had failed to purge itself of contempt following the court’s June 30 order.

According to the court order, if the foundation failed to comply with an Aug. 22, 2017, deadline to move the vessel, it could be fined $500 per day until the vessel was moved. Contempt fines were not paid or enforced because the foundation believes Bucknam Road is a conforming location.

The foundation’s stance, stated in a Sept. 28, 2017, memorandum, was that the vessel’s location has always been in compliance with permitted uses.

The vessel has not been moved since the council denied an over-limit moving permit to launch it last November at the end of Shore Road, a private drive. The council requested the foundation reapply for a permit once additional information was gathered, including an agreement with neighboring property owners on Shore Road to allow the vessel to cross their properties on route to the launch site.

The Shore Drive Neighbors Road Association, a group of residents with property on Shore Drive, considered a mediated meeting with Carter Becker, partial owner of the Island Rover, on how the boat could be launched from the site on Shore Road.

However, in an email sent to the town last week, the association withdrew its offer to participate in discussions.

“We had agreed to consider a meeting with Mr. Becker if the information we hoped to receive and review demonstrated that a meeting would be worthwhile,” association President Andrew Allen wrote. “We now recognize that such a meeting would be of no value because the proposed transport of the Island Rover cannot take place without causing damages (to our road, our trees, structures on our properties, and our way).”

The email states that the neighbors are not objecting to the vessel’s launch for “emotional reasons,” but because it could cause “irremediable harm” to their properties and trees.

“The Island Rover, despite its storied origin, remains a huge, unwieldy, potentially harmful ship that has no place in our residential neighborhood being forced down our narrow grass way through our ancient oak to water’s edge,” the email states.

Becker’s attorney, Benjamin Leoni, said in a Feb. 22 email to Town Manager Peter Joseph that Becker was surprised by the association’s decision to call off the meeting.

“Nonetheless, Mr. Becker is committed to moving on and exploring alternative arrangements to launch the Island Rover,” Leoni wrote. “My client remains committed to seeing the Island Rover floating in Casco Bay.”

Councilor Melanie Sachs supports going to court to assess fines immediately.

Chairwoman Sarah Tracy said the council could potentially seek collection of fines accumulated since Aug. 22, but the decision would be up to a judge.

“We’ve said all along, you don’t need to launch the boat, you just need to get the boat off of the non-conforming property,” Tracy said. “We deliberately held off taking any legal action to let (a mediation) play out … (but) I don’t see it playing out at all at this point. … It is our job to make sure that violations are resolved.”

At its meeting Tuesday, the council also unanimously voted to replace streetlights with LED fixtures.

Although Joseph said the town won’t know the exact cost of the LED project until a contractor is recommended, $127,500 of this year’s capital budget has been designated to fund the conversion to LED streetlights, which are more energy efficient and last longer than standard lights.

Read this story in The Forecaster.

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