Casco: Legal weighs in on permit matter

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — After a next door neighbor complained to the Town of Casco about a home that seemed way oversized for the Shoreland Zone, some changes took place.

According to Casco Town Manager Dave Morton, “Following some discussions, Alex Sirois and Bob Tooker initiated a program to post all building permits that are issued” on the town’s website.

“As the building permits are approved, the notices are going out” to abutters, Morton said.

“That way if someone takes out a building permit and waits 45 days to start, which isn’t unusual, the people adjacent to them” have time to appeal the permit, Morton said.

“A lot of municipalities don’t do that,” said Casco Town Attorney Natalie Burns. “It has been beneficial to building permits in coastal communities.”

The town’s new policy of notifying abutters via postcards “is not going to add a cost to permit because you notify only abutters. But, it will save the time and trouble,” Burns said.

“It is a good idea to have neighbors know about these” permits, she said.

“That way the courts make the abutter abide by the 30-day rule,” she said. “It is a question of fairness. If someone doesn’t know about it, how can they challenge it?”

Town Attorney Burns was on the agenda during a Casco Board of Selectmen meeting in mid-September to address a myriad of issues, including how to go forward with an illegal building permit in the Shoreland Zone.

Essentially the building permit at 3 Morning Lane is now valid because: 1.) the allotted time to appeal has passed; and 2.) the construction has already reached 30%, Burns said.

Still, the end result of this demolition and building permit that was issued in the spring of 2016 is that there was excessive removal of vegetation and trees, and the home is closer than the required 100 feet from the high-water mark.

However, what is done cannot be undone — by law, Burns said.

Selectman Grant Plummer asked if the facts about the permitting mishap could be put “in the file of that property. What do we do? Do we red flag it? There is no consent agreement.”

Burns said, “If there is communication from the neighbors, than that will end up in the file.”

“The determination of the [current] code enforcement officer is that the homeowners did not exceed the limits of the permit,” she said.

In other words, the property owners did what was allowed according to the permit and according to the plan that was approved.

By law, permits issued at the Town Hall level do not require notification other than displaying a permit card on site.

However, building plans going before the Casco Planning Board do require public notification.

“What if it exceeded the Shoreland Zones rules and regulations,” Plummer asked.

Burns responded, “That is not the common practice.”

Morton summed up the situation from about 18 months ago.

“We have a case [in which] the previous CEO issued a permit in the Shoreland Zone that shouldn’t have been issued,” Morton said.

Burns discussed the 30-day limit on appeals, which has essentially tied the hands of the town.

“Technically, the 30-day rule runs from the date of the decision of the code officer,” she said.

“For the town, because the town knew it was issued, the town is limited to 30 days. You are an automatic party to that permit and automatic party to all board decisions,” she said.

“The town cannot do anything once the 30 days lapse. The law in court has said that,” she said.

“So, as someone knows about something [a questionable permit] they should be challenging that,” Burns said.

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