The China Board of Appeals ruled unanimously Sept. 26 that two successive town codes officers were correct when they allowed Nicholas Namer to add a structure – exactly what it is was one of the points in contention – on his waterfront lot where his mother could live in the summer.
Neighbors Kimberly and Anthony LaMarre appealed the codes officers’ decisions, contending Paul Mitnik and his successor, current codes officer William Butler, misinterpreted China’s Land Use ordinance.
The structure in question looks like a small gray house set on concrete blocks, with a peaked roof, steps leading to the door and wheels under it. Different people testifying at the Board of Appeals hearing called it a Park Model recreational vehicle and said it has sewer and electrical connections and is registered as a motor vehicle.
Namer put the structure on the lot in early July 2018 without a permit. Previous owners had had a camper, grandfathered under town ordinance. The lot is not large enough to accommodate another permanent building under China’s shoreland regulations. According to the LaMarres’ written appeal, there are already five non-conforming permanent structures.
In July 2018, the LaMarres appealed to Mitnik, who first issued a notice of violation. After review, he issued a permit in August 2018, calling the structure a recreational vehicle and not a building.
The LaMarres did not appeal the permit within the required 30 days because, they said, they did not know it had been issued; repeated inquiries at the town office brought no reply.
In the spring of 2019 the LaMarres, finding the structure still there, contacted Butler. Butler orally reaffirmed the permit. The LaMarres appealed his action within 30 days, leading to the Sept. 26 Board of Appeals meeting.
Board of Appeals members had two questions to answer. The three lawyers present, Edmond Bearor and Stephen Wagner, of Rudman Winchell (Bangor), representing the LaMarres, and William Lee III, of O’Donnell Lee, P.A. (Waterville), representing the Namers, presented testimony on each issue, supplemented by their clients and by neighbor Jeffrey LaVerdiere.
The first question was whether the board had jurisdiction in the case. Bearor argued that although the LaMarres’ appeal of the 2018 permit was late, it was the town’s fault, not theirs; they did nothing wrong, and the delay did no harm to Namer, so the board should accept the belated appeal.
Lee replied that the LaMarres were at fault for not following up when their questions about the permit were not answered and thus lost their first chance to appeal. Butler’s oral confirmation of the permit in July 2019 did not start a new 30-day window. Therefore the appeal was invalid and the board should not hear it.
Two board members, Robert Fischer and Lisa Kane, voted they lacked jurisdiction, and two others, Michael Gee and Anthony Pileggi, voted they could act, forcing Chairman Spencer Aitel to break the tie, He sided with Gee and Pileggi and moved on to the second question, whether the permit was correctly issued.
Although complicated by issues like the trees Namer cut (with Mitnik’s approval, he said), setback from lot lines and alleged drainage changes, the main question was whether, under China’s ordinance, the structure was a recreational vehicle replacing a previous grandfathered camper, or whether it was a mobile home or some form of manufactured housing.
Subsidiary questions included whether its being in a different part of the lot from the previous camper was important; whether it could be moved; and whether, if it were a recreational vehicle, Namer could leave it on the lot year-round.
After a wide-ranging discussion, board members focused on whether Namer had a recreational vehicle that was legal because it replaced the grandfathered camper. They decided he did and voted 4-0, with Aitel abstaining, that the permit is valid and its issuance meets China ordinance definitions and requirements.
They therefore denied the LaMarres’ appeal Aitel promised a written decision within a week and reminded the LaMarres that they have 30 days to take the board to court if they so choose.
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