William Ruger, left, and James Blanchard are suing the town of Bar Harbor over zoning changes related to the ferry terminal property on Eden Street. ISLANDER FILE PHOTOS

Suit seeks to overturn vote

BAR HARBOR — Shorefront property owners James Blanchard and William Ruger are suing the town over a new maritime activities zoning district at the former international ferry terminal property on Eden Street. That change of zoning was approved by voters in June.

The suit was filed in Hancock County Superior Court July 12 by Portland attorney William Dale. It asks the court to invalidate the zoning change, which was Article 12 on the June ballot, saying the new Shoreland Maritime Activities District is inconsistent with the town’s comprehensive plan and constitutes unlawful spot zoning. The plaintiffs also claim the new district is inconsistent with other provisions in the town’s land use ordinance and inconsistent with state shoreland zoning rules.

Ruger, former Chairman of Ruger Firearms, and Blanchard, have standing, Dale argued, because they voted against Article 12 and because they “have had their property values adversely affected by the passage of Article 12.”

Ruger, who owns an estate just over a half-mile north of the ferry terminal property, is not listed as a registered voter in Bar Harbor, according to the town clerk’s office. The suit lists him as a resident of Newport, N.H. The town values Ruger’s property for tax purposes at $5.2 million.

Blanchard owns a $1.76 million waterfront home at the end of Harbor Lane, approximately three-quarters of a mile south of the ferry terminal property.

The complaint also alleges the town failed to provide all of the legally required notices about the proposed change.

The town will file a response within 20 days, town attorney Ed Bearor told the Town Council Tuesday. The council went into an executive session at the end of their meeting to seek Bearor’s advice on the matter.

Dale was consulted this year by the group that put forth and promoted Article 13, a citizen initiative zoning change that was rejected by voters. Blanchard was the chair of the petitioners’ committee for Article 13. A letter from Dale arguing Article 13 was consistent with the comprehensive plan and the rest of the LUO and was not spot zoning appeared in an advertisement in the June 8 edition of the Islander, paid for by Citizens for Article 13.

Dale also represented resident Dennis Bracale and other Hulls Cove residents in a 2010 lawsuit against the town over zoning changes. That suit stretched more than two years and included a bench trial before Justice Ann Murray ruled against the town on most counts in January of 2013.

Murray’s decision supported Bracale’s claim that large-scale hotel developments in Hulls Cove would not be consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan. But the decision also validated the 2010 vote creating a commercial shoreland zone around the ferry terminal property. Murray found that nothing in the zone was inconsistent with any mandatory provisions of the comprehensive plan.

Some of the language in the current complaint from Blanchard and Ruger is the same as the Bracale v. Bar Harbor lawsuit, with only very minor wording changes.

“Various town staff members are now engaged in a futile attempt to reconcile the various inconsistencies in the … town meeting vote,” Dale wrote in both complaints, “an exercise that will result, at best, in a series of further LUO amendments and ‘best guesses’ by town staff as to what the electorate voted to do … and which, at worst, will result in an adoption by administrative fiat of LUO amendments not truly chosen by the voters.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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