Maine Campground Dispute May Go to Court
A long-simmering feud between a Gray, Maine, campground where many residents vacationed as children and neighbors who say the facility has been operating illegally may be nearing a conclusion.
The Gray Town Council has hired a lawyer to either take Twin Brooks Campground to court for allegedly violating land use laws or negotiate a settlement that the Town Council could accept, according to the Portland (Maine) Press Herald.
The campground has been operating on the shores of Little Sebago Lake since at least the 1950s, before Gray even had zoning restrictions. Many townspeople have fond memories of vacations spent there.
But it turns out the campground may well have violated a number of land use ordinances as it gradually expanded over the years. In some cases, it obtained certain state permissions for additional sites though not necessarily the corresponding local permits.
Zoning Request Brings Expansion to Light
The town's zoning ordinance, adopted in 1968, allowed the campground as a conditional use, but required sites to be set back 100 feet from the boundaries with neighboring properties and from the shore.
But enforcement in the area was lax, with many properties around the lake getting additions and being converted to year-round use without the required permits.
The campground's alleged violations only came to light when it applied for an expansion of its existing 45 campsites to more than 100 sites. Neighbors said they discovered the campground had never had permission to expand beyond the 25 sites it had in the 1960s.
Residents Gerald Haines III and Francisca Morant bought property next door to the campground in 2005 and eventually challenged the legality of many aspects of the campground.
Their attorney could not be reached for comment, but before town boards and in court filings, they said the campground had illegally filled wetlands, cut trees in resource protection zones and added utilities to campsites that weren't supposed to be enhanced, among other complaints.
Despite multiple notices of violation by the town, the campground continued to operate in violation of ordinances and operated in 2006 in spite of the state denying its campground license, opponents said in court papers.
The campground also drew criticism from the Little Sebago Lake Association, which worried that unregulated use of docks at the campground could contribute to the spread of milfoil, an invasive plant, in the lake. Shorefront property owners also questioned whether the campground was adequately handling all the septic waste generated by campers.
Ultimately, the Town Council was persuaded to take a more active role in forcing the issue.
Town Council Votes To Act Against Owner
"However understandable the difficulty of enforcing the ordinances in this matter, the fact remains that the town of Gray has a legal and moral responsibility to enforce its ordinances," wrote the town's planning consultant, George Thebarge, in a report on the issue to the council.
"I have concerns about the long-term prospects for continuing compliance by the campground owners, given the track record of violations and their persistent resistance to taking necessary actions to bring the campground into compliance with orders of Town Code Enforcement staff and the Zoning Board of Appeals," Thebarge wrote.
The council voted last week to direct its attorney to take action against the campground.
The campground, now owned by Andrea Maloney, who inherited it, has responded to many of the concerns but has been unable to persuade the planning board or opponents to go along with expansion plans, said her attorney, David Lourie.
"It's clear there's nothing Twin Brook can say or do which will satisfy the neighbors. They essentially want to put it out of business as a campground," Lourie said.
"We have to decide if it makes sense to continue campground operations or not in view of the restrictions which they've been successful in getting the town to put on the campground," he said.
Lourie said the 60-acre parcel is now for sale, though the economic slowdown is limiting options for the property. He was unable to say into how many house lots the property could accommodate.
"Unfortunately, the people who immediately abut the campground don't care about the history, about what happened and what legal rights the campground should enjoy. They just want it out of there," Lourie said.
The attorney hired by the town to handle the case, Paul Driscoll, is expected to file paperwork in Portland District Court soon, alleging the campground has violated land use laws. Whether the result is a negotiated settlement of the claims or a judge's decision on the charges remains to be seen, according to those on both sides of the case.