‘confident that this matter will be resolved amicably between the parties very soon’

Camden and Atlantic Ave. property owners proceed toward resolution instead of court

Thu, 11/18/2021 - 7:30pm

    CAMDEN — The Town of Camden and Charles and Laura Lee Hefner, who own property on Atlantic Ave. in Camden, are working toward a resolution to an issue that almost landed in Knox County Superior Court this week, after the Select Board approved filing a complaint Tuesday, Nov. 16.

    However, by Thursday afternoon, Nov. 18, tensions had eased and the specter of court was just about dismissed.

    “Mr. and Mrs. Hefner have taken full responsibility for the actions of their contractors, and have paid the full amount required by the consent agreement,” said Attorney Jack Sanford, who represents the Hefners. “The current situation is the result of a minor disagreement over the terms of the consent agreement. I met this morning with Town Attorney Bill Kelly, and Town Planner Jeremy Martin, and am confident that this matter will be resolved amicably between the parties very soon.”

    Likewise, Camden Town Manager Audra Caler said Nov. 18: “From what I understand Bill [Kelly] and Jack [Sanford] had a very productive meeting.  The Hefner's have agreed to pay the remediation costs if the Town is willing to amend the agreement so they can monitor and remove Japanese knotweed and other invasive species on an ongoing basis.  The Town is willing to work with them on this so we can move forward without filing the complaint.”

    The Select Board in Camden had voted 4 to 1 to file a complaint against the Hefners after Caler reported at the regularly scheduled Nov. 16 board meeting that the terms of a consent agreement concerning unlawful tree removal on town-owned land had not been met.

    That Sept. 3 consent agreement between Camden and the Hefners followed violation notices sent by the town to the Hefners late in the summer. The town maintained that landscape work on the Hefner’s house renovation project encroached on adjacent town-owned land. Six trees that grew on the town property had been cut down and four were illegally trimmed, according to the consent agreement.

    Camden cited the Hefners for violating building permit terms, as well as municipal zoning and public tree policy ordinances, and for trespass.

    The consent agreement included, which had been signed by the Hefners, completion of a mandatory restoration plan, and imposed financial penalties of $24,230 for violations of the Public Trees Policy Ordinance ($4,000), violations of the town’s Zoning Ordinance ($15,300), and trespass ($5,000).

    The consent agreement said: “Hefner shall pay for all costs as set forth herein association with the design, installation and oversight of a restoration plan of the Camden property, which said Restoration Plan that must be approved by the Camden Select Board upon the advice of a qualified design professional retained by Camden, and said Plan must also be satisfactory to the Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection, and Hefner shall pay any ongoing costs for the replacement of any tree or plant material that may not serve the initial planting for a period of 1.5 years after planting.”

    The town subsequently hired Environmental Engineer Jeff Senders to create a restoration plan, paying him $8,218.75.

    The plan included replanting cedar, sugar maple, hemlock and red maple on the town-owned property. See attached PDF for the plan.

    At the Nov. 16 meeting, Caler said that there had been, “no payment to date for engineering and design work for remediation activities,” from the Hefners.

    There is, she added, “disagreement as to whether or not the consent agreement specified whether they needed to pay those costs as well as the costs for the actual on-the-ground mediation work.”

    Board Chair Bob Falciani asked, “Wasn’t there a payment with a signature consent agreement that is not related to design.”

    “Yes,” said Caler. “Just to be clear, the consent agreement for the fines and penalties, shoreland zoning violations, the trespass violation, as well as the violation to the public tree ordinance, that was all paid.”

    She added: “On top of that, there was an agreement that they would pay any costs the town might incur from DEP for tree clearing along the stream as well as the cost of the remediation of the site, including the engineering and design.”

    Board member Alison McKellar pointed out that the restoration plan was to be approved by the Select Board, which, “would be coming back to us.”

    She indicated the board had yet to see that plan.

    She said: “So I guess I am wondering what the property owners got billed for.”

    Caler responded that a bill had been forthcoming from the engineers, “and it is my fault I didn’t bring it back to you.”

    Falciani said the allegation remained that the landowners did not want to pay.

    Caler said that Hefner and his attorney, “are saying that what they paid so far is all they are obligated to pay.

    “I understand that,” said McKellar. “I don’t know what the plan is.”

    “They are asserting they don’t need to pay any of it,” said Caler.

    McKellar maintained that she wanted to see a plan.

    Mediation was to be the first course of action, said Caler, but asked the Select Board for approval to file the complaint to start the process.

    “It is hard for me to wrap my head around what they are not agreeing to pay for,” said McKellar, expressing concern that future action could be taken, and, “that something will come back.”

    “You’re defending the consent agreement,” said Caler.

    McKellar asked for the evidence of noncompliance, including emails between attorneys. She opposed filing a motion in court, “without seeing anything in writing.”

    The board voted 4 to 1, with McKellar opposing, to send the complaint to Knox County Superior Court.

    But by Nov. 18, the parties were moving in a different direction, toward a new agreement. And, the restoration plan was made available for review.

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657