The people who manage the Palermo Community Center say the local American Legion post is flouting a court-backed lease that calls for water to be provided to a mobile home, which is then used at a garden that produces food for dozens of needy families.

It’s the latest in a long-running dispute between the community center’s top officials, who live in the home, and the local veterans’ organization over lease responsibilities and the garden’s fate.

Connie Bellet and Phil Frizzell, respectively the president and chief financial officer of the nonprofit community center run by the Living Communities Foundation, say that their landlord, the Malcolm Glidden American Legion Post 163, is refusing to provide them with water, even though that is a requirement stated in the lease.

Legion Commander Clayton York Jr. declined to comment about the issue when reached by phone. The Legion post’s attorney, Matt Evans, also declined multiple requests for comment when reached by phone and said, “This is what you call newsworthy? … You’re going to print whatever you want, so that’s why we’re not commenting on anything.”

A call to officials at the American Legion Department of Maine in Winslow was not returned.

Frizzell is a Legion member who has paid his dues for life, and Bellet was president of the local Legion auxiliary. They lease the land from the Legion post for their mobile home and the Palermo Community Garden on Turner Ridge Road for $1 a year and it’s paid through 2020, when the lease expires. Together, the couple manages the garden that was started 18 years ago, providing organic food for about 50 families in need in Palermo. They also run a number of community services and events at the gardens and in the community center.

Until recently, a nearby neighbor involved with the foundation hooked Bellet and Frizzell up to his well.

That house has now been sold and the new owners turned the water off, Frizzell said, so they are forced to go back to the Legion.

According to the lease, the Legion is required to provide water, power and septic connections. The water also is used at the community garden.

The Legion was given 30 days’ notice to hook the property up to a water source, but it had failed to do so by the time the 30 days were up on June 4.

The Legion has sent Robert Marks, an attorney representing Bellet and Frizzell, a letter saying that they can access the Legion’s water well, but that the water couldn’t be used for the garden.

Providing access to a well that is on the Legion’s property is “worthless” and not what the lease stipulates, Frizzell said.

“They’ve been trying to destroy the community garden for over a decade,” he said. “How many times do we have to go to court?”

In the meantime, Frizzell, who is 80 years old, has been hauling about 25 gallons of water per day from the spigot at the Town Office in Windsor to keep the garden alive.

“If we don’t get water in the next couple of days, with this 90-degree heat they will have gotten their wish,” Frizzell said last week. “They will have killed the garden.”

Marks said that, according to the lease, the water connection should be at the rental space and not at a well. Marks declined the Morning Sentinel’s request for a copy of the Legion’s letter.

Frizzell said there is a history of the Legion harassing the couple. “We’re feeding 50 families that have fallen on hard times, and the Legion down there simply doesn’t like them around,” he said.

Frizzell also said that the Legion wants to turn the garden into a parking lot.

The Legion previously fought to have the lease declared unenforceable in court in 2011, but failed. Belfast District Court Judge Patricia G. Worth ruled in favor of Bellet and Frizzell, finding that the lease is not void or unenforceable, and that the Legion had “failed to demonstrate that the lease is unconscionable.”

In the summer of 2013, the Legion post sent Bellet and Frizzell a letter saying they planned to clear the garden site to build a parking lot. The letter instructed them to remove the shed, gardens and other property before construction was to begin.

Matt Evans, the lawyer representing the Legion at the time, said that the lease authorizes the couple only to have the mobile home, a storage shed, room for mobile home additions and space for entering and exiting. He said the lease does not authorize the several storage sheds and garden.

Marks sent York a letter in August of that year, threatening a lawsuit.

Construction did not begin.

The garden still grows.

But delaying their connection to a water source, Frizzell said last week, is “just a ploy for them to kill the garden.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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