The Maine State Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in an appeal filed by a neighbor of the inn owned by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, over an expansion on her property.

The dispute dates back more than three years, when Pingree tore down what her lawyer called a “dilapidated” building on the grounds of the Nebo Lodge on North Haven island and replaced it with a new 40-by-26-foot structure.

Catherine K. Connors, the lawyer for the neighbor, Steven Wolfram, a seasonal island resident, claimed that the replacement building represented an illegal expansion of the building’s footprint.

Lawyers for Pingree and the town said the replacement was allowed because it didn’t result in an expansion of the rooms at the inn or other uses of the property. They said it actually improved life for neighbors, including Wolfram, by moving some items, such as recycling bins, inside the structure and out of sight.

Much of the questioning by justices revolved around whether the town’s ordinance for replacing non-conforming structures had a typo in it, with the word “or” mistakenly used in place of “of.” Lawyers for Pingree and the town agreed it was a typo, which would suggest a ruling more favorable to their side.

One justice also suggested the case could be used to encourage towns to look at their ordinances and clean them up.


Justice Ellen Gorman said legal fees in the case should represent an incentive to make sure that town laws are clear, although she said the strong spirit of home rule in the state means many municipalities would resist adopting any uniform wording suggested by the state.

Connors also alleged that her client’s rights were violated because members of the town’s Board of Appeals talked to people involved in the case outside of board meetings.

That argument was viewed skeptically by Justice Donald Alexander, who noted that it’s hard to avoid talking to people in a small town like North Haven.

“You’re talking about conversations taking place in a small town where everybody knows everybody?” he asked rhetorically.

The court heard oral arguments for about a half hour. There’s no word on when they might rule, but it typically takes the court months to issue rulings on cases that come before it.

Pingree’s daughter, former Maine House speaker and manager of the Nebo Lodge, Hannah Pingree, attended the hearing.

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