Residents walk at the The Cottages at Pine Meadow development in Saco. Many residents say they have experienced problems with their homes, and some filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Jon Fetherston looks through his neighbor’s sliding glass door at the sprawling farmland capped by a line of trees that still cling to their autumn colors.

The 58-year-old was drawn to The Cottages at Pine Meadow in part for that idyllic backdrop, where he imagined sunrises and sunsets book-ending the days for him and other residents as they eased into retirement.

“This was our reward,” Fetherston said of the 55-and-over development where he and his wife, Wendy, live part-time. “But it’s been a living hell.”

The Fetherstons bought their 610-square-foot condominium in April 2022 and say they’ve experienced nothing but problems since. They have replaced their heat pump twice already. There’s moisture in their basement. The stove was installed incorrectly and shot flames several feet in the air the first time they turned it on.

Their list of grievances is long, and the costs have been racking up. Complaints to the developers and requests that the builder make repairs frequently went unanswered, they claim.

Jon Fetherston, 58, of Ashland, Mass., has to stoop so he doesn’t hit his head when he enters the basement of his vacation home at the The Cottages at Pine Meadow development in Saco. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

And they’re not alone.


Residents in more than half the 24 cottages say they bought the newly built homes thinking they would be stress-free. Instead, there has been nothing but headaches. Windows that were improperly installed, malfunctioning appliances, uneven flooring, and even cracks in the walls and foundation. The beautiful landscaping that was promised never materialized, leaving residents to plant their own.

Collectively, the residents have tried to get recourse. They contacted Saco city councilors, the code enforcement officer, the planning board, and the mayor. They attended and spoke during planning board meetings in Cape Elizabeth to warn board members about the builder, who had proposed a development there. But their complaints kept getting shuffled to different departments and then disappeared altogether.

In June 2022, the Fetherstons lodged an official complaint with the Maine Office of the Attorney General against the developers, Mark McClure and Paula Wallem of GenX Capital Development, doing business as Saco Cottages LLC, as well as the builder, Ron Goddard. The complaint, which alleges poor construction resulting in myriad health, safety, and aesthetic issues, was signed by the owners of 13 of the cottages.

The AG’s office would not confirm the existence of an investigation, but a spokesperson said last month that there have been eight complaints lodged against Saco Cottages LLC, though it’s not clear how many may be duplicated efforts from those who already signed Fetherston’s complaint. Emails from as recently as January show correspondence between the residents and AG’s office staff. But neither side has heard anything, one way or another, in several months.

Kelly Flagg, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, said she couldn’t speak to this specific development because her organization represents commercial contractors, not residential ones. Generally, she said it’s common for newly constructed buildings to have a few minor things that need to be fixed after construction wraps up, but it’s rare for them to go unresolved to the point where owners complain to the attorney general.

The property developer and builder, meanwhile, have forcefully denied the allegations.


Goddard maintains that the construction was standard-issue – the houses were never meant to be luxury units, he said. Some of the problems he attributes to the pandemic and supply chain issues, but he maintains that he responded to every request for service communicated to him during the nearly two years he was on the site.

McClure, however, referred to the complaints as “vindictive” and “falsehoods,” and threatened to launch personal attacks against the residents and the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram to discredit their claims.

“My PR team has prepared a detailed, unflattering response about the writer and those that have made these false claims,” he said in an email to the reporter ahead of publication, adding his desire to “ensure those that published (the story) face dire consequences on Google search infinitely.”

“If our names will be dragged into the mud on the internet falsely, rest assured we are responding 20-fold to ensure the writer and complainants’ names are in all searches as well from a negative standpoint,” he said.


They found their way to The Cottages at Pine Meadow for different reasons.


Cheryl Sarno, 64, wanted to be closer to her kids and grandkids. Her 650-square-foot home at the end of the development was going to be the last property she ever bought, the perfect place to settle in with her dog and cats.

Cheryl Sarno was one of the first residents to move into The Cottages at Pine Meadow. She’s given up hope for financial relief but doesn’t want other older adults to have to deal with the problems she’s faced with her home. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Fetherston and his wife, Wendy, had always vacationed in Maine. Finding a place close to Portland and area beaches seemed like a dream come true.

Marcia Thibeault, 67, bought the biggest house – a 1,100-square-foot corner condo with views of the neighboring Leary Farm from both sides – because of the location. Her husband, who has since died, was in a nursing home just down the street.

“I would drive by on Route 1 every day on my way to work in Portland, and I looked in at these little places here and thought, ‘I’d love to live in one of these places one of these days,’ ” she said. “If I knew then what I know now.”

The complaint to the attorney general includes more than 100 specific grievances from 13 owners. Some of the more common complaints include flooded basements, malfunctioning and improperly installed appliances, uneven flooring, missing window screens, and windows that were installed incorrectly, upside-down, or with plastic instead of glass.

Others complained about doors that were improperly fitted and wouldn’t lock, cracks in walls or foundations, and leaking heating and cooling systems. Residents say some things that were included in the purchase and sale were not as promised. Some bathroom fixtures were missing or were downgraded.


Each of the nine home layouts includes a loft, and several residents complained that the ladder, which slides, did not feel safe. Sarno had her ladder replaced with a spiral staircase, and others have paid to secure their ladder in place.

Jon Fetherston, 58, tries a ladder to a loft at his neighbor’s home at The Cottages at Pine Meadow development. Several residents complained that their sliding ladders did not feel safe. Some paid to secure their ladder in place. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Sarno said one of her neighbors had an incorrectly installed water expansion tank break, flooding their basement with about 5 feet of water. Thibeault and Fetherston both had the water in their toilets freeze during a cold snap last year because they didn’t have a heat source in the bathroom.

Fetherston said their stackable washer and dryer weren’t installed properly and the dryer toppled over into the shower.

“Sometimes I walk in my door and feel like, am I going to end up in my basement?” Fetherston said.

Two houses are positioned so that the front doors directly face each other with only about 10 feet of space in between, preventing the construction of a wheelchair-accessible ramp for one homeowner with disabilities.

Many issues were noted before closing and added as an addendum in documents or simply promised verbally, the residents said. Some were not immediately obvious until it was too late. Some of the issues have been fixed – and Goddard said he responded to all the requests he received – but some remain unresolved.


“This situation is a travesty,” the residents wrote in the complaint. “We all were looking forward to residing in Maine in a lovely retirement community. Instead, we spend our time in attempts to get resolution to the mounting issues and we spend hard-earned dollars to fix those issues that simply can’t wait.”

Teri and Dave Treiger closed on their cottage in July 2022. One week later, a pipe backed up, dumping raw sewage into their basement.

In a letter to the Cape Elizabeth Planning Board, which was reviewing a proposed development from Goddard, the Treigers said the team misrepresented a previous backup situation to rush the closing. A receipt from Rooter-Man Plumbers says the line seemed to be broken just east of the foundation. Follow-up calls and emails seeking assistance went unanswered, they said.

“Rather than continue fighting with the developers to fix their shoddy work, my husband and I opted to hire the proper people to address the remaining issues,” Teri Treiger wrote.

Dana and Anne Bengtson also wrote to the Cape planning board and said that while they had a better relationship with Goddard than many other residents in the community, they were disappointed with several issues in their unit and with the development.

When they bought the house, their backyard faced a quiet, densely wooded area. They asked Goddard if the property was buildable and were told no, because of the wetlands, the Bengtsons wrote. A year later, there’s a 120-unit apartment complex under construction right behind the house.


“We are angry and disappointed, as we would not have purchased had we been told the truth,” they wrote.

Fetherston, Sarno, and Thibeault have given up hope for any financial relief, but they’re hoping there will be some accountability. They say they don’t want what happened to them to happen to other older adults or other vulnerable populations.

“Our concerns have been raised with the (developers) without resolution and delays have resulted in the loss of warranty coverage,” the complaint reads. “If not completely ignored, some issues raised have been met with retaliatory comments and threats of lawsuits for libel or slander.”


Saco Cottages LLC is the second team to take on the development.

Developer Bill Koch and Sandra Murray, a broker with Keller Williams Realty, dreamed up The Cottages at Pine Meadow as a “four-season, age 55-plus luxury cottage condominium community,” according to a 2019 advertisement.


The Saco Planning Board approved the development in 2018, and Koch and Murray began renovating existing cabins and building the model unit. But the pair abandoned the project for “personal reasons,” according to a Mainebiz article, and GenX Capital Development – McClure and Wallem’s Miami-based real estate investing and development company – bought the property for about $6 million in October 2020.

McClure, Wallem, and Goddard stuck to the development’s original plans for 24 new-build cottages and seven renovated cabins, but “with an eye toward speed” to keep up with demand as interest in Maine increased at the height of the pandemic, they told Mainebiz.

Crews broke ground in January 2021, and the first batch of residents closed in October and November of that year.

But the cluster of small homes that now dot the landscape just south of the Scarborough line is a far cry from the luxury cottage community that was originally promised, residents say. Sure, they have stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and cathedral ceilings, but the leaking heating units, sliding glass doors without screens, and frigid bathrooms paint a different picture.

Goddard, however, said the units were never meant to be luxury.

“They’re cheaper units,” he said. “The materials are lower-end materials.”


That was necessary, he argued, to keep the prices under $300,000. By the time GenX Capital took over the project and began marketing the units, the word “luxury” had been scrubbed from the description.

Some of the problems, like the two homes that directly face each other, were part of the original plan approved by the city. Goddard said he stuck to the plan and built what he was told to.

Goddard also said the pandemic caused supply chain issues, meaning that some appliances and materials were not available, had become more expensive, or were damaged. The builder acknowledged that homeowners were frustrated by the delays.

“When they were able to move in, they already came in heated,” he said. “And so that just snowballed into any little thing that might’ve been a simple issue, they would just make it into a bigger issue.

“Maybe they thought they were getting the Taj Mahal, and they got a tiny home.”

As delays and problems continued, the environment quickly deteriorated. Both sides say the work site was hostile, with insults and accusations being hurled both verbally and over email.


At one point, Sarno filed a protection from harassment order against one of the workers, whom she said was trespassing through her backyard. Goddard said the worker was trying to take measurements of a drainage ditch. The complaint was later withdrawn.

All the homes received the stamp of approval from the city’s code enforcement office and received a certificate of occupancy.

“The units were scrutinized extremely hard,” Goddard said. “As far as I know, no one has had their occupancy permits revoked due to poor workmanship or … the houses falling over.”

If anything, Goddard said, some of the residents “destroyed their own property” by filling in the drainage ditches to build up their backyards, causing flooding in some of the units.

But residents say the poor drainage, while a problem, is the least of their concerns.

Many of the issues were discovered after they moved in, sometimes long after.


Fetherston, a member of the Board of Selectmen in his home community of Ashland, Massachusetts, said it was “mind-boggling” that no elected officials have come to the development to talk to residents or investigate their claims.

“I believe in buyer beware,” he said. “But government is supposed to protect people.”


McClure denied any responsibility for the problems in the development and said he had minimal involvement with the construction.

“We’re not contractors. … All we can say is ‘go fix this’ … (and) try to crack the proverbial whip as best we could,” he said.

Some of the residents asked to move in early before a certificate of occupancy was granted. They told the developer they were going to be homeless. So, they were allowed to move in early with the understanding that some things were unfinished, according to McClure. The punch list would be completed after, but promptly.


Then they started complaining, McClure said.

The homeowner association hired an attorney for advice but was told filing a lawsuit would be costly. Sarno hired her own attorney, who advised her that any case would be long and drawn out, costing her far more than any damages she might try to recoup.

Residents reached out to Saco city councilors, the code enforcement officer, the Planning Board, and the mayor before ultimately contacting the attorney general.

Saco Mayor William Doyle said in an email that the former administrator had some conversations with homeowners who contacted the city, but in light of the complaint with the attorney general’s office, he declined to discuss the issue further “as our staff may be involved in the investigation and/or subsequent hearings.”

Last year, Sarno tried to take their story to the media, but nobody got back to her. Then, in February 2022, she received a cease-and-desist order from Murray Plumb and Murray, the law firm representing Saco Cottages LLC.

The letter said Sarno was “engaged in a campaign to falsely impune (sic) the integrity of both Saco Cottages and its contractors.”


McClure said he does not know the cease-and-desist order.

He said he didn’t deal with complaints directly. His wife, Wallem, often coordinated with the property manager, Goddard, and the residents about problems.

McClure also stressed that since the homes have increased in value in the last two years, it’s “pretty odd that they’re suing us.”

Frustrated by a lack of action, residents of The Cottages at Pine Meadow have spoken out about other projects involving the development team.

Goddard, financial adviser Laurie Bachelder, and Cape Elizabeth real estate agent Andrew Carr approached the Cape Elizabeth Planning Board this summer with plans for a 16-unit development.

But residents of The Cottages at Pine Meadow caught wind of the proposal and wrote letters and spoke at meetings to rebut the claims that Saco Cottages was a successfully built condo community. The Cape Elizabeth Planning Board rejected the proposal in October, ultimately ruling that the team lacked the “technical or financial capability” to build the development to completion.


GenX Capital is developing “The Mark,” a 45-unit, high-end, one- and two-bedroom condo development in Cumberland. It’s also trying to get a 60-unit luxury condominium development of duplexes and triplexes off the ground on Hope Avenue in Portland. The project, also known as Presumpscot Woods, already has a coalition of neighbors lined up in opposition.

McClure said he hasn’t spoken with Goddard in more than a year. Goddard was previously listed as a partner in “The Mark,” but McClure said in an email that Goddard is not involved in the project. Goddard said he has some investment interest in the property but is not working on it in a professional capacity.


It’s unclear what will happen next. Neither side has heard anything from the attorney general’s office in months. Goddard assumes that means the office has dismissed the complaint. The residents hope it’s still being investigated.

AG’s office spokesperson Danna Hayes said there is not always a definitive end to an investigation.

If the office files suit, it means officials determined there were grounds for legal action. If not, it still doesn’t mean the case is closed.


“People who made complaints are sometimes aware of a conclusion if one exists, but that depends on the facts and context of the cases,” Hayes said.

So, what’s next? Residents could move, and some have. One unit is currently for sale for the third time since it was built in 2021.

But others either aren’t ready or aren’t able to give up.

Sarno can’t afford to move. Between the roughly $260,000 she spent on her home and the $35,000 she estimates she will have spent once the last of her home repairs and renovations are completed, there won’t be enough left over to start again.

Thibeault also is not confident she should or even could sell. At $411,000, hers was the most expensive house on the lot, and prices have only appreciated since then. What would be the dealbreaker for a potential buyer? The falling insulation in the basement? The pipes that keep freezing? The windows that leak?

Even if I wanted to sell, I’d feel guilty selling,” she said. “I feel like I would have to disclose a lot of things, and I wouldn’t want to do that.” 

Fetherston is still optimistic that things will improve. He’s given up hope of receiving any financial compensation, but he is hoping for accountability from the city.

 “This should have been a home run for Saco,” he said. “But they struck out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.” 

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