BAR HARBOR — Proponents of changing the way electric power substations are handled by land use rules are suing over a recent town council decision to have voters wait until November to vote on their proposal.
Attorney Arthur Greif says in court papers filed Feb. 23 that because the proposed land use ordinance (LUO) changes were supported by certified citizen’s petitions, the council was compelled by charter to put them to a vote either at the next town meeting or sooner. By putting the proposed amendments on the November ballot, as they decided to do last month, councilors violated the constitutional rights of the voters, Greif says.
“The action of the … town council to delay any vote on these warrant articles until November was illegal on its face and in direct violation of the town’s charter,” Greif writes in the Feb. 23 filing. Along with co-plaintiff Sam Dunlap, he is asking the Hancock County Superior Court to order the town council “cease violating their first amendment rights to petition the government for redress of grievances and affirmatively place both warrant articles on the June 9, 2015 warrant.”
The petition that is the subject of the lawsuit was spearheaded by citizens unhappy with Emera Maine’s plans to build an electric power substation on Woodbury Road. It was reviewed by town councilors on Feb. 17.
The petition proposed two distinct LUO changes. One would clarify the term “public utility installation” as a power or cable hookup. The other would create the term “public utility facility” to define substations and the like and would give the planning board the highest level of permitting scrutiny when reviewing such projects.
Town councilors agreed that they were compelled to place the LUO amendments before voters, but said that to do so in June would create a confusing situation. In June, voters are set to weigh in on a long-in-the-works proposed repeal and rewrite of the entire LUO. The language in the proposed citizen’s amendments runs contradictory to this document, councilors found.
The ordinance rewrite, if passed, would restructure the document, taking information currently in the Appendix C table of uses and moving it into individual chapters. Because the amendments proposed in the citizen’s petitions make changes to Appendix C, councilors found that seeing it on the June ballot would both confuse voters and set up potentially conflicting results.
The town charter requires a vote on any petition item within a year of submission. On the advice of town attorney Rob Crawford, councilors supported holding off on placing the proposal before the voters until fall.
Greif disagrees with this interpretation. He further states that the Appendix C language is a non-issue, telling the Islander that “a high school freshman could simply transfer the references to Appendix C in the initiatives to the individual districts,” should the amendments pass.
The town has yet to file a response to Greif’s lawsuit.