Negotiations over a new lease for a Peaks Island horse farm have left the herd out in the cold.

Jeanann Alves has been running Horse Island Camp for 20 years. But the city of Portland ordered the shelters for her animals demolished during a permitting dispute, and she says she can’t rebuild them until she has a new lease. Her landlord’s attorney says an agreement is near, but Alves says she can’t afford the terms offered to her on top of the replacement costs for the shelters. Without a resolution, the future of the camp is uncertain.

Meanwhile, the horses have little protection from the elements, and that has drawn the attention of the state’s animal welfare office.

“I just don’t want my horses taken away,” Alves said.

Horse Island Camp owner Jeanann Alves carries empty buckets back to a trough after bringing water to horses. “I just don’t want my horses taken away,” she said. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Thomas Covington Johnson, a lobsterman known locally as “Covey,” owns nearly 20 acres of land on the east side of the island. Alves has been bringing rescue horses and disadvantaged youth together on his property since 1998. Tension over the farm has been building for two years, since a neighbor complained about a shed being built by another of Johnson’s tenants in a wetland. A city inspection resulted in the citation of 11 unpermitted buildings, many of which belonged to Alves, and an illegal tractor-trailer used for storing hay and alfalfa for the horses.

Johnson argued that he didn’t need permits because the buildings were on a farm, but he ultimately lost that battle at the zoning board and then in court. Portland issued permits for some structures on the property but, in November, a District Court judge ordered that any unpermitted buildings must be demolished. If Johnson did not comply, the judge ordered that he would pay a civil penalty of $50,000. So he tore down the shelters at the camp last month, and all but $3,000 of the fine was waived.

Johnson now has a permit that would allow Alves to build four new horse shelters on the farm. But construction has not started because the longtime tenant and landlord have been in negotiations for a new lease. Their respective attorneys said they have been working toward an agreement, but it has not been signed because they are at an impasse over how to share the costs Johnson incurred during the permitting dispute with the city.

Andrew Doukas, who has represented Johnson for years, said the terms of the proposal are affordable and appropriate. The lawyer said Johnson has asked Alves to pay for demolition as well as a portion of the city’s fine and design costs for new shelters.

“I think Covey Johnson is already subsidizing her substantially, and there’s got to be a line somewhere,” Doukas said.


But Alves has said she doesn’t have the nearly $5,000 needed to cover those costs when she estimates that the new shelters will cost more than $25,000. She also argued that she tried to get permits for her old shelters, which she believes met setback requirements, but her landlord told her they would be demolished instead. She also said it is unfair for her buildings to be singled out when they were not the source of the initial complaint.

“All I keep hearing is that I don’t have any rights, my horses don’t have any rights,” she said.

Jacob Bowie, the attorney for Alves, declined to comment other than to say the parties are working toward a lease.

Buster, a 4-year-old standardbred gelding, shares a corral with Mercury, behind. The owner of the property where Jeanann Alves leases the land has obtained permits for four new horse shelters but must negotiate a new lease before they can be built. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

So, since rain and snow fell in the final weeks of November, the horses have been out in the open. State law requires that outdoor animals have a shelter with at least three walls and a roof. Alves said the state’s Animal Welfare Program contacted her because they heard her horses did not have shelter, and a representative from the program came to the farm last week. While that person said the horses appeared to be in good condition, they scheduled a return visit for mid-December.

A spokesman confirmed that the Animal Welfare Program is involved, along with the city’s animal control officer and local police. He declined to provide any related records or to comment further, citing an open complaint.

Twisted fencing remains near the former locations of sheds and stables at Horse Island Camp. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Alves said she has been putting extra blankets on the horses and trying to keep them near the trees in foul weather. But she worries about protecting them from the cold and isn’t sure what to do next. She said she has asked the city whether there is a plot of public land on Peaks Island where she could relocate the camp, and she has contacted a host of local officials for help. City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said no city land is available.

“Everybody’s looking into it, but they’re not the ones trying to keep the horses warm,” Alves said.


Johnson has also listed the property – just shy of 20 acres – for sale for $2.4 million. The listing, which went up more than a year ago, describes the property as the largest property listed on the island in decades. Doukas said the horse farm would not be disrupted by a sale if a lease is in place.

“No one’s made an offer that we like yet,” he said. “He would like to see it remain a farm but people who have come to look at it have had all kinds of ideas.”

Johnson, who is in Panama for the winter, sent a short response to an email request for comment about the future of Horse Island Camp. “Horse camp always has a place on my farm,” he wrote. “It’s been a rough time for the camp and myself. The city has cost me thousands and thousands of dollars for nothing, all because of a neighbor’s complaints.”

Timmi Sellers, the neighbor who made that complaint, said she has no ill will against the horse farm. She has been in communication with Alves and is waiting for any instructions on how she can help the farm.

“I hope that the island community and other people can help Jeanann rebuild permitted structures,” Sellers said. “She’s got people who are willing to help.”

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