Counterclaim filed in billionaire beach suit

Billionaire Mitchell Rales, who owns a summer home on Peabody Drive in Northeast Harbor (Lot 33, shown on the section of the Mount Desert Tax Map above) has sued his neighbors, many of whom are heirs of Charles W. Eliot, who helped found Acadia National Park, to curtail their access to a pier and beach on his property.

Billionaire Mitchell Rales, who owns a summer home on Peabody Drive in Northeast Harbor (Lot 33, shown on the section of the Mount Desert Tax Map above) has sued his neighbors, many of whom are heirs of Charles W. Eliot, who helped found Acadia National Park, to curtail their access to a pier and beach on his property.

MOUNT DESERT — Descendants of Charles W. Eliot, one of the founders of Acadia National Park, claim that the lawsuit filed by billionaire Mitchell Rales to prevent them from using the beach and wharf at his Peabody Drive property has no merit.

They have filed a counterclaim in which they ask the court to declare that they have the right to access and use the wharf “for all purposes.”

Rales’ suit, filed Sept. 8 in Hancock County Superior Court, seeks to prevent neighboring property owners from using a footpath across a corner of his property and from using his beach or wharf for “any private purposes” including “holding parties, igniting fireworks, sunbathing, gathering, picnicking or storing boats.”

Rales contends that easements conveyed with land transfers between 1883 and 1947 do not give his neighbors the right to use his property, which is owned by his corporation, Peabody Land LLC.

The suit names the owners of five abutting or nearby properties as defendants. The adjacent property to the north, at 131 Peabody Drive, is owned by nine descendants of Charles W. Eliot through their corporation, Coffeepot LLC.

The Coffeepot is the name of the summer residence. One of its owners, Sara Pierce, read the Islander a statement on behalf of herself and the others:

“We are deeply disappointed that Mr. Rales has elected to sue all of his neighbors. Our family has enjoyed the beach and used the pier for fishing, swimming, boating and quiet enjoyment for more than 100 years. We hope to continue to enjoy the waterfront for another 100 years. The Coffeepot family has a perfectly legal and deeded right of way to access and use the wharf and landing place going back to 1927 and before, which Mr. Rales and his lawyers knew when he bought the property.”

Rales bought the 4.6-acre lot from Susan Mary Alsop for $5.5 million in 2007. He tore down and replaced both the house, which Eliot had built, and the wharf.

Rales’ lawsuit apparently was prompted by beach parties held this summer and last by his next-door neighbors to the south, at 153 Peabody Drive. That property is owned by Eliot descendants Alexander, Peter and Paul Goriansky, all of the Boston area.

“These wrongful parties have included loud music, fireworks, crowds, nighttime activities, alcohol and other offensive acts and disturbances,” the suit alleges.

The Gorianskys did not respond to requests for comment.

Neither did another defendant in the suit, Elisabeth Rendeiro, a trustee of the Francis H. Eliot Trust. The Trust owns and maintains the large summer home on the other side of Peabody Drive across from the Rales property.

Billionaire Mitchell Rales' summer home along the shore in Northeast Harbor. He has filed a lawsuit seeking to block his neighbors' use of the beach and pier. FILE PHOTO

Billionaire Mitchell Rales’ summer home along the shore in Northeast Harbor. He has filed a lawsuit seeking to block his neighbors’ use of the beach and pier.

The owners of two other nearby but non-abutting properties also are named as defendants in the suit. One of them, John Anthony of Little Rock, Ark., told the Islander last week that he would not contest the suit and is giving up any claim to access to Rales’ property. He said his attorney had advised him that his claim to an easement was “dubious.”

The lot adjacent to Anthony’s is owned by Curt and Ann Strohacker of Devon, Pa., through their corporation, Wynnestay LLC. They could not be reached for comment.

Coffeepot LLC filed its counterclaim to Rales’ suit Oct. 2. It states that, when the estate of Charles Eliot conveyed ownership of the Coffeepot in 1927, the deed provided for an easement granting the owners of that property the right to travel to and use the wharf on the Peabody property.

The counterclaim asserts that, for several decades, “Coffeepot has been passing and repassing across the Peabody property and using the wharf as its own, all of which occurred with the knowledge and acquiescence of the owner of the Peabody property.”

The counterclaim asks the court to declare that Coffeepot’s owners can continue to cross the Peabody property and use the wharf “for all purposes.”

On Oct. 5, Peabody filed with the court a formal reply to Coffeepot’s counterclaim. The reply states that any prior use of its beach or wharf by the Coffeepot owners was “with the permission of Peabody and its predecessors-in-title” and that such permission was not granted by any legally binding agreement.

In addition to seeking to bar his neighbors from using his property, Rales is asking the court to make them pay a portion of the roughly $500,000 cost of the wharf he built in place of the old one, which he claims was “decrepit, unsafe and on the verge of collapse.”

The suit cites a 1947 deed that stated that those who enjoy the right of way across the 137 Peabody property “shall be subject to the obligation to pay a proportionate share of the cost of maintenance of the wharf or landing place… .”

The Coffeepot owners state in their counterclaim: “For the past several decades, extending through approximately October 2011, Coffeepot and others contributed to the maintenance and repair of the wharf through a series of assessments.

“Peabody knew about and participated in the assessment scheme and benefitted from it, in that the assessments substantially contributed to the maintenance and repair of the wharf on the Peabody property.”

Coffeepot’s counterclaim further asserts that Peabody built the new wharf “without input from Coffeepot, that the prior wharf was in good repair and did not need to be replaced [and] that Coffeepot has no obligation to pay for the improvements and betterments plaintiff made to the wharf.”

Peabody, in its reply to the counterclaim, argues that “any funds which Coffeepot paid for a wharf have nothing to do with the existing wharf on the Peabody property.”

“To the extent that Coffeepot paid any of the [assessment] funds for the old, decrepit wharf, that wharf no longer had any value, was completely used up and is no longer in existence. Coffeepot did not contribute any funds to this new wharf.”

None of the court filings state whether Coffeepot or any of the other defendants were asked to contribute to the cost of the new wharf. When asked about that by the Islander, Sara Pierce said, “I would prefer not to comment on that.”

Both parties, Peabody and Coffeepot, are asking the court to award them reimbursement of costs related to the suit.

Eliot and the Coffeepot

Around 1900, Charles William Eliot, president of Harvard University and an early leader in the preservation of land on Mount Desert Island for a national park, was given a silver-and-wood coffeepot crafted between 1770 and 1780 by American silversmith Benjamin Burt.

Eliot had a summer home in Mount Desert on the property now owned by Rales, and he wanted to build a cottage next door. So, he sold the coffeepot to help pay for it. That cottage has been known ever since as the Coffeepot.

It was owned and used seasonally for many years by Eliot’s great-grandson, Dan Pierce (pronounced “purse”) and his wife, Polly, of Dedham, Mass.

Dan Pierce, who died in 2014, had served as chairman of College of the Atlantic’s investment committee and supported a number of other local organizations including Friends of Acadia, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the MDI Historical Society.

Polly Pierce is on the board of directors of the Land & Garden Preserve of Mount Desert Island.

Dan and Polly Pierce transferred ownership of the Coffeepot to Coffeepot LLC in 2011. All nine current owners are Eliot descendants. Four are Dan and Polly’s children: Dan, Matthew, Sam and Sara Pierce.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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