Lawyers to pen Point Sebago contract zone

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — After a bit of a back-and-forth spat, a little war of the words, the attorney representing Point Sebago Resort and members of the Casco Planning Board came to an almost amiable agreement regarding the crafting of a contract zone amendment.

Basically, the writing of the language — to convey the needs of both parties — will be the task of the attorneys of the Town of Casco and Point Sebago.

As dictated by the planning board’s vote on March 9, the Casco Board of Selectmen can decide what to do next. The vote included a request to use the assistance of the town attorney. That course of action is underway.

On March 9, Point Sebago Resort submitted its request for a contract zone amendment with an open-ended date. This particular paperwork had been submitted to the board earlier that day. The paperwork veered from the mutual verbal agreement at a previous planning board meeting that Point Sebago Resort would apply for a one-year extension, and then work with the planning board on an amendment with a 10-year lifespan.

The board decided to table the proposed amendment, saying there was not enough time to review it. After all, board members had just received the revised request that day.

According to Town Planner Jim Seymour, “The Point Sebago Resort put forward a proposal late in the day Monday, requesting that the planning board execute the CZA (contract zone agreement) with none of the conditions as previously requested, and that there be no time limitation or termination of the CZA.”

Additionally, Point Sebago refused to include in the contract zone agreement items listed by the board such as addressing plans to install fire suppression systems where needed; providing to the town existing records for daily water usage during peak periods as well as inspection records for infrastructure involved in water distribution and wastewater/septic treatment; and also supplying inspection records of storm water runoff, he said.

At the end of the night, the attorney for Point Sebago, Timothy Keiter, said he was open to a two- to three-year extension, instead of the one-year being offered.

Still, Keiter stuck with the stance that Point Sebago Resort management did not want the three conditions tied to the contract zone amendment.

“That is the wrong approach. If we create these kinds of precedencies, we will have to do something next time the contract zone is up. That is not how it works,” Keiter said.

He said his client is in favor of addressing the matters as a separate document instead of as part of the contract zone agreement. Also, it is illegal and outside the scope of the contract zone to include those items, he said.

At the time, Seymour said that from his brief discussion with the town attorney, it was legal and binding to include a promise to address those three areas: public safety, human health and environmental protection.

Until the very end of the planning board meeting, the standoff continued with Keiter refusing to include the requests as part of the contract zone amendment and with board members saying it within their rights — and state law to make such requests.

The following night, March 10, when the topic came up at the Casco Board of Selectmen meeting, the job of drafting a new contract zone had already been handed to the town’s legal counsel, Natalie Burns. Burns will work with Keiter, Chairman Grant Plummer said.

Also, on March 9, selectmen nailed down dates so that the contract zone renewal could be presented as a warrant for the Town Meeting in June.

The formal paperwork should be ready for the selectmen to approve two weeks from now. The planning board will review the proposed amendment on March 30. Then, on April 7, the selectmen and planning board members will preside over a joint public hearing.

This time frame would allow the planning board to make any changes during its regularly-scheduled meeting in April. Also, the selectman would have time to approve the final written product as a warrant at the Town Meeting.

On Monday, March 9, three representatives from Point Sebago Resort came before the planning board. The discussion lasted for an hour and forty minutes. Some of the discussion was mired in the recent past. Some board members reacted to an e-mail from Keiter that had what they called aggressive, inappropriate language. They had read that for the first time during last month’s meeting on Feb. 9.

Keiter said the latest amendment should be based on the past amendment — just a continuation of the development that was approved 10 years ago.

“It is easier to rock the boat less, do what is there now, and use the contract zone agreement” language from the 1996 amendment, Keiter said.

Chairman Potter disagreed, saying that much has changed in 10 years, and in the 23 years since the original contract zone agreement. She cited some examples like larger fire trucks that need bigger roads than those built 20 years ago, advanced septic systems, and requirements to stem water pollution and algae blooms.

“To expect a (residential) construction zone to go on 20 years without changes is unrealistic,” Potter said.

Despite strong disagreements on certain issues, the attorney did say he admired planning board members for their hard and thankless work. Likewise, board members said that Point Sebago Resort was a valuable asset in their town.

The Casco Town Planner commented via e-mail. “Much is still hanging in the balance, but it is in both parties’ interest to reach a compromise for at least a one-year amendment, and then next year, work on a longer term amendment/extension for the future plans of the resort,” Seymour said.

Point Sebago lawyer’s e-mail angers planning board

An e-mail from the attorney hired by Point Sebago Resort angered some members of the Casco Planning Board.

Chairman Lynne Potter and planning board member Stan Buchanan responded to the e-mail correspondence, saying that the language was aggressive and inappropriate.

On March 9, each of those board members put their foot down, making it clear how they felt about the wording as well as the tone of the e-mail.

Potter said the tone of the memo was “hostile and bullying.”

Attorney Timothy Keiter had listed reasons the Planning Board should approve the application to extend Point Sebago’s contract zone agreement as has been done in the past — without any conditions tied to the renewal process. His e-mail was a response to requests that Point Sebago address a few public safety and environmental issues.

“The resort cannot agree to be held hostage on an ongoing basis…to a never-ending and ever-changing stream of new (and potentially very expensive) requirements by the town,” Keiter wrote.

“The continuance of the Contract Zone should not be able to be threatened, or unreasonably conditioned, on an arbitrary or capricious basis by the Town,” Keiter said in his e-mail.

“A failure of the Contract Zone could have significant negative effects on both the Resort and the Town, not the least of which would likely be a significant decrease in the value of the Resort and resulting loss of tax income to the Town from the Resort. I am sure that both parties will be much better off avoiding any situation where an extension of the Contract Zone is not approved, and especially so if approval is withheld for reasons that are improper,” Keiter wrote.

Chairman Potter said she was tired of the property tax argument.

“Having this kind of rhetoric coming from you, and thus Point Sebago management, is offensive,” she said.

“If you want to have a workable approach, having a more cooperative stance with the planning board would be helpful. This does nothing but elicit a negative response,” she said.

“We don’t want a deterioration of dialogue going forward,” Potter said.

Keiter apologized to board members, saying his language was intended to express the concerns of his clients. Point Sebago management was worried about what would happen if the contract was not renewed. Meanwhile, as expressed by Town Planner Seymour, the town needed more than a handshake to show good faith. The town had pressed for improvements to be made as part of the contract zone renewal.

“We don’t want you walking away in a year, because it was too hard or too expensive. We want assurances,” Seymour said.

At this point in time — now that the differences in perspectives have been addressed and put on the table — Keiter and Casco Town Attorney Natalie Burns are putting their heads together to put on paper a short-term Contract Zone extension that suits both parties.

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