Media Archive

Sebec saga continues

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 164, No. 51, December 18, 2002

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

SEBEC –Selectmen Monday balked at complying with a Portland attorney's freedom of access request-as the town, itself, waits on information from that individual.

The attorney, Gregory Cunningham of Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer and Nelson, is representing E. Forbes Smiley III, owner of Sebec Village Shops. The town planning board sent a request to Cunningham more than a month ago, asking for additional information regarding Smiley's development in town, due to concerns that the plan has deviated from that permitted.

Monday, selectmen scrambled to recover documents relating to the appointment of all associate/alternate appeals board members, a copy of an Oct. 7 letter from Code Enforcement Officer Bill Murphy regarding investigations at Sebec Village Shops and any and all documents relating to the consent agreement that the town entered into Dec. 2 with Charlene and William Moriarty, allowing the couple to operate their marina in the village.

A paralegal from Cunningham's office. Donna Severance, attended Tuesday's meeting to collect the information - five working days upon making the Dec.10 request, as state statute allows.

"It's funny how freedom of information only works one way," said Walter Emmons, planning board member who drafted a request for information to Cunningham and Smiley on the town's behalf.

"Our planning board sent a letter, and [Cunningham] said he would only deal with our CEO," said Susan Dow, selectmen. "Our CEO told the planning board that they had every right to request the information."

Selectman Buzz Small said the town has waited a month, and made several attempts to contact Cunningham, "without much success." He noted that the CEO, who had spoken with the attorney, was expecting the documents for the planning board soon.

"In my personal opinion, a month to wait for those documents is untimely. That is information that should be readily available," Small said.

Planning board members Emmons and Mary Downs on Nov. 18 informed the selectmen of concerns with Smiley's development, specifically alleging that the property had been developed beyond the 20 percent lot coverage allowed in the
shoreland zoning ordinance.

According to Emmons, the buildings, porches and a new driveway/parking lot cover 31 percent of the property.

Smiley last week said that he has given his attorney "clear instructions ... to move this development along within the rules and regulations" of the town and the state.

Smiley, who lives in Martha's Vineyard and Sebec, said he is attempting to "set an example" by creating a successful small business" in Maine, relying on the skills and services of local people. But, he said, the development has "not gone smoothly," largely due to local politics.

He said that the planning board and selectmen have been "overwhelmed with all of our plans and details," and that he hired an attorney to "make sure we cross all our T's and dot all our I's."

Cunningham, the attorney, said Tuesday morning that he is perplexed that the town entered into a consent agreement with the Moriartys that allows the couple to operate a marina, although the permit applied for was for dry storage. He said there is a
concern that the town's response to Smiley's recent appeal of the Moriarty permit has been "to have our property investigated and put under the microscope."

"I think that's a unique way of handling local land-use issues," he said.

Cunningham did not comment on any possible lawsuit against the town, but he did say, "Obviously, we're looking into the various past actions of the board, trying to determine if this was undertaken legally."

He said that he is drafting a letter to Murphy, the town's CEO, which will include some of the information sought by the town. He did not say what would not be included in that response.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.