AUGUSTA — Mount Vernon selectmen are suing the town Board of Appeals about two recent decisions, but the town attorney says the case isn’t meant to divide the town.

“This is not the town suing the town,” town attorney David Sanders said about the recent appeal he filed in Kennebec County Superior Court.

In addition to selectmen and the Board of Appeals, the lawsuit names J. Lorraine Putnam, owner of property on Minnehonk Lake Road, and James Landherr and Valerie Center, former Connecticut residents who moved recently to 14 Main St. in Mount Vernon, as parties-in-interest.

The complaint asks a judge to reverse decisions by the Board of Appeals and to rule that the board improperly granted variances on June 6 to the property owners.

Putnam had sought a variance to place a retaining wall within a 100 feet of Minnehonk Lake, and Landherr and Center applied for a variance to remove sod and plant a garden within a 100 feet of the lake.

“To the extent that (the landowners) have requested and been granted variances … state law does not permit one to be granted in the shoreland zone,” Sanders says in the court appeal.

Russell Evans, who was chairman of the Board of Appeals but resigned from the board Aug. 29, agrees that the decision needs to be corrected.

“The board, under my direction, produced a completely erroneous finding,” Evans said Friday. “It turns out the ordinances are completely meaningless. The decision was in exact conformity with the ordinances, but the ordinances are completely wrong.”

“The seven of us, we wanted to do it right,” Evans said.

On June 13, selectmen asked the Board of Appeals to reconsider its action, but that request was denied July 17. Evans said the reconsideration process, too, had faults, generally involving missed deadlines and proper notification of the landowners. “The whole thing was a muddle from beginning to end,” Evans said.

Evans said he resigned because he felt selectmen interfered with the independence of the Board of Appeals. “When the selectmen directed the town attorney to advise the town clerk to ignore town ordinances and withhold the only copy of a properly signed and attested decision letter, the selectmen violated that independence,” he said in his resignation letter. “… My remaining chairman under these circumstances would imply that I accept the selectmen’s actions as reasonable, which I most certainly do not.”

Sanders said the Department of Environmental Protection determined that the variances were granted in violation of state law and is prepared to take action if the town doesn’t.

“If these variances are allowed to stand, (the town) is subject to enforcement procedures, equitable remedies, and civil penalties to be initiated by the Department of Environmental Protection,” the complaint says.

“Both of the two landowners got it wrong, and the Planning Board of Appeals got it wrong,” Sanders said. “This is a legal way to remedy the situation.”

Sanders said he did not anticipate opposition to the appeal, but when attorney Noreen A. Patient entered her appearance on behalf of Putnam, Sanders asked the court for additional time to file the town’s brief. He also requested a stay in the variance granted to Putnam, indicating Putnam did not object to that.

“It would now appear that the town’s action is being contested,” he said in his request to the judge.

Landherr sent a letter to the court “to clarify some errors in the lawsuit.” He also included a CD recording of the selectmen’s meeting. Landherr too said he was told by an enforcement agent at the Department of Environmental Protection that the  state would not object to a garden if the town approved the application.

Betty Adams — 621-5631
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