Gray set to settle land use dispute

The Town of Gray has reached a tentative settlement with several landowners on Birchwood Road regarding a land use dispute. 

GRAY — The town has reached a tentative settlement with several landowners over a land use dispute in a development off Little Sebago Lake.

Several recent council agendas have included executive sessions about an ongoing land use dispute, and the Feb. 6 meeting was the first time there was a public discussion about the dispute and tentative settlement involving four lots on Birchwood Road on the northeast corner of the lake.

“This is what we were discussing in executive session,” said Council Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher.

The tentative settlement, which also lists Everett Johnson Sr. and Lake Property, LLC as parties to the mediated agreement with the town, was signed by the property owners and Gray Town Manager Deborah Cabana on Jan. 8.

Under the terms of the agreement, the town will agree to certain property boundaries and the property owners will agree to pay the town $20,000.

Natalie Burns, one of the town’s attorneys from Portland-based law firm Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry, said the agreement is still tentative because the Town Council needs to approve it after a public hearing.

Gallagher asked Burns Tuesday night to give an overview of the dispute and how the parties came to the tentative resolution.

“For several years, there have been issues because houses were built across property lines. There were some private disputes among property owners about ownership,” Burns said. “Previously, there was litigation to which the town was not a party because it didn’t involve anything to do with the town. And the parties resolved the litigation through the recording of a plan, and also through the trading of deeds back and forth.”

It was trading deeds and changing boundaries, Burns said, that caused issues with the town because these were nonconforming lots of record within the shoreland zone.

“Had this not been in the shoreland zone, that might have been OK,” she said.

A “substantial amount of research” was done by the town before sending out the land use violations, Burns said. Following the violation notices, she said, there was litigation that led to an alternative dispute process, which ultimately produced the settlement terms.

“Basically, we recognized the reconfiguration of the lots; there is to be a payment to the town in order to resolve this,” Burns said. “And that will be entered as a final judgment and those lots will be treated by the town as if they were legal lots.”

The public hearing necessary to move the agreement forward was held Tuesday night, but no members of the public chose to speak.

Despite having the tentative settlement in place, Burns recommended postponing the vote so the parties involved can work to satisfy some concerns from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

“We learned that the department does have concerns about the settlement, but we have been working with them and working with one of the property owners to see if potentially we can resolve that,” Burns said, noting the agency would like to see more restrictions in the settlement area and that a resolution with DEP had not yet been reached.

She was “hopeful that we’ll be able to give you a final answer as to the DEP’s position” by the council’s next meeting.

“I think it would be prudent if we table it to our next meeting,” said Gallagher.  The panel agreed to table the vote to the next meeting on Feb. 20 with a unanimous vote of 5-0.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

The Town of Gray has reached a tentative settlement with several landowners on Birchwood Road regarding a land use dispute.