TREMONT — On Monday, Judge Michael A. Duddy ruled in favor of the town of Tremont’s motion to dismiss all three counts of a complaint filed against the town by Cindy and Stephen Lawson in Business and Consumer Court. The Lawsons had filed a case challenging the town’s consent agreement with Acadia Wilderness Lodge after their appeal was rejected by the Tremont Board of Appeals.
The first count brought against the town was in opposition to the Tremont code enforcement officer’s (CEO) decision that the amendments agreed to in the consent agreement constituted “minor modifications.” The minor modifications were that the campground’s original plan to build cabins was changed to instead build yurts, and that the original number of yurts was changed from 11 to eight and the office building was eliminated.
Judge Duddy ruled that this complaint was beyond the jurisdiction of the court, as the land use ordinance (LUO) does not allow for decisions made by the code enforcement officer to be appealed by the town’s Board of Appeals.
“The Town LUO at Art. IX, Sec. B(2)(b) states that any ‘order, requirement, decision or determination made, or failure to act, by the CEO in the enforcement of this ordinance is not appealable to the Board of Appeals,’” wrote Judge Duddy in the ruling.
The court dismissed the first count against Tremont for a lack of jurisdiction since a superior court does not have jurisdiction to rule on an appeal that is not allowed to be appealed due to town laws and ordinances that prevent such an appeal, as in the case of Tremont’s LUO.
The second count brought against the town was to appeal the town’s execution of the consent agreement with Acadia Wilderness Lodge. This count concerns the legality of the consent agreement, which does fall under the jurisdiction of the court, as Tremont’s LUO does not prohibit appeals for law violations.
The Lawsons did not argue that Tremont could not enter into a consent agreement, because, according to the LUO, they may, but rather that this particular consent agreement contained the error of accepting the changes made to the campground’s site plan as minor modifications rather than violations, which they believe these changes to be.
The court dismissed the second count against the town as well due to the invalidity of the Lawson’s argument and because they failed to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted. The argument for this complaint was that the yurts were illegal structures that were in violation of the setback requirement.
“The Lawson’s argument that the yurts are illegal structures because of setback requirements fails because the locations of the yurts, even granting inferences in favor of the Plaintiffs (the Lawson’s), are not in violation of the LUO,” stated Duddy in his ruling.
The third count filed against the town was to obtain a declaration that the consent agreement between Tremont and Acadia Wilderness Lodge is invalid. This count had an issue with exclusivity because this complaint is duplicative of an existing complaint already filed by the Lawsons.
“This is duplicative of the pending, earlier rule 80B appeal as to the 2020 and 2021 Decisions, which argues that their untimely appeal to the Town Zoning Board of Appeals should have been heard under an exception to timeliness rules,” wrote Judge Duddy in his decision. “If Plaintiffs are successful in that suit, the 2020 and 2021 Decisions will be appealable to this Court, but it is improper to bring them separately here while that appeal is still pending.”
It is not proper procedure to bring a complaint to court and to bring the same complaint to court before a ruling has been made on the first. The third count was also dismissed by the court.
“I was very pleased with the judge’s decision,” said Tremont Town Manager Jesse Dunbar on Tuesday. “As I indicated before, it’s what we were hoping for and what we anticipated should have happened.”
Dunbar had indicated in a prior interview that he had expected the complaints against the town to be dismissed and did not think that the opposing arguments were valid.
“It should have been dismissed as there was nothing out of the ordinary,” said Dunbar.
Cindy Lawson feels differently about the ruling and issued a statement on behalf of Concerned Tremont Residents.
“We are deeply disappointed by Judge Duddy’s latest decision. It is concerning that a developer and complicit Select Board can craft and stage a way out of being held accountable for violations initially kept secret,” said Lawson. “It is our position that these actions specifically undermine the authority of the Planning Board and deprive members of the community who will be most impacted by these developments from having a voice. At this time, we are evaluating our options for moving forward.”
This decision does not mean victory for the campground, nor does it mean defeat for Concerned Tremont Residents.
“The two remaining complaints will be dealt with,” said Dunbar, referring to the court decisions that are currently pending in regard to the campground.
“One of them is from CTR, on the initial approval from changing cabins to yurts.” said Dunbar. “Second is the campground’s appeal of the Board of Appeals’ decision on their 55-site campground.”
The first case refers to the case that caused one of the counts against the town to be dismissed in this ruling due to duplicity. In it, the Lawsons have challenged the code enforcement officer’s decision to approve changing structures on the property from cabins to yurts on Aug. 8, 2020, and the code enforcement officer’s decision to approve the changing of the location and size of the yurts, and the elimination of the office building on the property on July 29, 2021.
The second case does not have to do with this campground but with a second property owned by the same owners as Acadia Wilderness Lodge and operated under the same name. The owners hope to put a 55-site campground on this property but are currently appealing the appeal to their initial approval.