AUGUSTA — A Three-Mile Pond family camp apparently will be staying in the family.

A judge has ordered the town of China not to sell land on the body of water that it acquired through the owner’s failure to pay taxes, and instead to allow the woman who has owned it since 2013 to redeem it.

Stacey O’Connor, of Oro Valley, near Tucson, Arizona, had sued the town in August to halt the sale of the property after the town foreclosed on it for unpaid taxes.

The lawsuit appealing the town’s actions was filed in Kennebec County Superior Court, less than a week before bids on the property were to be opened. The appeal, filed by O’Connor’s attorney, Henry Beck, said the town failed to notify O’Connor properly about overdue taxes and lien claims, sending most of the items to her former address in Rockland.

O’Connor said she had told the town before April 28, 2015, that her new address was in Arizona, and, in fact, had received one tax notice there.

The court put a temporary stop to the scheduled Aug. 16 bid opening while the appeal was pending.

On Tuesday, Justice William Stokes issued an order permanently halting the town from opening the sealed bids and saying that O’Connor “may redeem the tax lien mortgage on the property.”

He said the town “failed to send the (notice of impending foreclosure) by certified mail, return receipt requested, to O’Connor’s last known address.”

“Ms. O’Connor is pleased the Superior Court correctly applied Maine law,” Beck said Wednesday via email. “All that she has ever wanted in this case was to pay every cent she owes the Town of China so she can keep her family camp and move on. The Legislature has granted towns enormous power to foreclose on real property but only if the law is closely followed.”

Stokes noted that O’Connor lived in Rockland while caring for her ailing parents and acquired the family’s seasonal camp on Three-Mile Pond from them in 2013.

He also wrote that the town sent a “State of Maine Notice of Impending Foreclosure” to O’Connor’s Rockland address in October 2017, as well as a copy to the Arizona address, telling her that $1,580 was owed.

Automatic foreclosure occurred on Dec. 1, 2017.

However, Beck maintained in the complaint that the notice of foreclosure to the correct Arizona address was sent via regular mail, rather than the legally required method.

O’Connor also tried to pay that amount last July but was told that the town owned it and she could bid on it to buy it back.

O’Connor testified at a Sept. 24 bench trial in Augusta that she knew the 2015 taxes were unpaid but did not know that the town was selling the quarter-acre property until a cousin told her. She also said she did not receive any mail from the town of China, Stokes wrote. Records at the Kennebec County Registry of Deeds show that the property was conveyed from her parents, Maland C. and Barbara K. Nowland, and they had received it from Ethel Nowland in 1946.

At the same hearing, China Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood testified that the town sent the notice to O’Connor’s Rockland address via certified mail, return receipt requested; however, it was returned to the town.

Attorney T. Evan Fisher, one of the attorneys who represented the town of China in the case, said he was not authorized to speak to the news media about the decision. Calls about the case to the Town Office were directed to the town’s attorney, Amanda Meader.

“We are certainly disappointed in the ruling,” Meader said in an emailed response to a request for comment. “The Town never wants to foreclose on property but followed the correct procedures to the best of its ability. The Town has not yet decided whether it plans to appeal but I expect that decision will be made this week.”

She said five bids were submitted on the property, but one was withdrawn.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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