AUGUSTA — Owners of a small lot on the shore of Minnehonk Lake in Mount Vernon appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday in a dispute over a generator with the town of Mount Vernon.

Property owners James Landherr and Valerie Center watched from a bench in the ceremonial courtroom at the Capital Judicial Center as their attorney, Robert E. Sandy Jr., argued to the state’s high court over the town’s enforcement of shoreland zoning provisions.

It is the latest installment in a series of the couple’s property disputes with the town. The initial legal battle involved a garden they created at their 14 Main St. property and later were forced to remove.

Thursday’s argument was over the installation of a generator on the same property.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley outlined the issue succinctly, asking: “Isn’t the really practical problem here that these are small lots, they are very close to the water and (subject to) shoreland zoning?”

The town’s attorney, David M. Sanders, who happens to live near the property in Mount Vernon Village, noted in his presentation that the Landherr/Center property is all within 100 feet of the lake.

The couple had appealed the August 2017 generator decision by Justice William Stokes in favor of the town. The property owners were fined and ordered to remove the generator, which the town had determined was a structure.

Landherr and Center had installed the 8-square-foot generator on their property in the Shoreland Zone without seeking or receiving a permit, and the town code enforcement officer notified them in July 2015 that the Mount Vernon Land Use Ordinance requires that “a ‘structure’ be set back at least 100 feet from the normal high-water mark in great ponds and rivers.”

The town’s Board of Appeals found that the generator was a structure because it sat on a pad, had underground pipes and power lines, and “was intended to remain in place.”

Several of the supreme court associate justices on Thursday indicated it would have been better for the couple to appeal the town’s ruling that the generator was a structure. Sandy acknowledged that had not been done. He also said that the couple was not represented by an attorney in at least one hearing with the town.

Saufley also said it would have been better for the landowners to check with the town before installing the generator.

She asked whether efforts had been made to work cooperatively with the town to find a suitable place for the generator.

Sanders said he offered to do so, and so did the town’s Board of Appeals, but the couple objected. “They did not want the code enforcement officer on their property,” Sanders said.

Sandy clarified that on rebuttal, saying that Landherr did not oppose the site visit by the board, “but everyone at the meeting would have gone, and that included the neighbors; that’s what (the couple) didn’t want.”

Sandy also said the only possible placement for the generator would have been under a deck, which was within the footprint of the house. “The problem with that is that it’s lethal,” Sandy said.

The justices were told the that the house has a regular power supply.

Gorman told Sandy, “Your clients have violated the finding of the Board of Appeals. Obviously, if your clients abide by the law, the police power of the town will not have come into play.”

Stokes’ decision, in a discussion about attorneys’ fees, referenced the relationship between the town and the couple: “The court is perplexed that this litigation continued for 18 months — long after the generator had been removed from the offending location. It was apparent to the court that the parties have had a contentious relationship and that, unfortunately, has blinded them to the value of cooperating with each other. In the court’s view, both sides bear some responsibility for this.”

The Law Court issues decisions in writing, and those decisions are published on the website of State of Maine Judicial Branch.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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