2014-12-26 / Front Page

Town gets serious about junk

Officials address unpermitted junkyards, auto graveyards
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Selectmen in Kennebunk, having reached the end of their patience with a long-standing eyesore in town, have announced their intention to see the property owner in court.

That much was clear at the Dec. 9 meeting of the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen, when Code Enforcement Officer Paul Demers gave a report on his efforts to clean up various unpermitted junkyards in town. Demers began that project in June 2011 and, of 22 properties still on his target list, 15 had made significant progress, he said.

Three or four still needed “a nudge,” to reach compliance, he added, while the rest, “need an incentive to get with the program.”

Chief among the latter category is the property at 31 Intervale Road, and the incentive presented was in the form of a date at the York County Courthouse.

The property is far from being the biggest junkyard in town, but it’s the one that makes the phone ring at town hall most often.

That’s due in part to the small municipal parking lot that sits next to it. In 2010 the town unveiled Intervale Road River Park, which included the small gravel parking area and a walk-in boat landing to the Mousam River. The site was built on lots flooded by the 2007 Patriots Day storm, using money made available by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy and tear down two homes damaged by the rising waters.

Soon after, complaints about the abutting property began in earnest and the town began to look for ways to make the lot, reportedly strewn with junked vehicles, machinery parts and other debris, more presentable.

Demers said most of the debris has since been cleared, while all vehicles on the lot, save two, have been registered. That meets the letter of state law and prevents the town from going after the property as a so-called automobile graveyard. It takes three unregistered vehicles to trigger that alarm.

Still, Demers said, while the property “is close,” it “needs more.” And, because “needing more” means the property owners have not met a consent agreement signed with the town, an appearance before a judge is scheduled for early February.

Demers said the few remaining items on the consent agreement can be fixed before February. One item on the punch list was a requirement that the homeowners apply for a home occupation permit from the town, in order to justify the items they want to retain on the small 0.86-acre lot.

Demers said he was willing to sign off on that permit, once a few small details get squared away, and he asked selectmen to meet with the property owners at their first meeting in January “for a little bit of a discussion.”

But selectmen would have none of it.

“Personally, I’ve run out of patience,” said Selectman John Kotsonis. “I’d just as soon take them to court because we’ve been dealing with this property for years with no change, no change, no change. Or, a little bit of change, but now it’s gone back.

“Basically, I’m done,” he said.

“I don’t want to enter into any negotiations with these people,” Chairman Kevin Donovan agreed. “Clean it up or go to court. And I’m certainly not going to sit and abide by giving them any permissions for a business. I would not sign any agreement with these people in reference to a business until that place is cleaned up.”

“I have to agree,” said Selectman Deborah Beal. “They have this trailer full of antifreeze containers. My issue is those are never 100 percent empty and they are right by the water. I would have grave concerns signing off on anything that is going to allow anything like that on that property.”

Selectman Albert Searles noted the homeowner’s son had begun building a fence to enclose a dumpster on the site, but wondered why it was being allowed.

“As far as I know, where he’s got it, is right in the town’s right-of-way,” he said.

The home at 31 Intervale Road is owned by Barbara Carruth. Her husband Russell worked for 30 years at the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport- Wells Water District and also logged three decades on the Kennebunk Fire Department. The couple lived at the Intervale address for nearly all of their 46 years together until Russell Carruth’s death in 2010 at age 71.

Also living in the home are the Carruths’ son, Jonathan, and his wife Carrie, who raised two children there.

At the Aug. 12 meeting, Carrie Carruth tried to address board members, but even then they seemed to be done with debate.

“I understand there’s been a lot of discussion about our property,” she said. “We have, as far as we’re concerned, complied with what the town has asked us to do.”

Donovon’s response was in the form of a question.

“Did you ask to be on the agenda?” he queried.

Carruth pointed out that Town Manager Barry Tibbetts had spoken about her home during his report, which, technically, did make it an agenda item, and, thus, her comments were germane.

Why, she wanted to know, had she received a notice to appear in court when, so far as she knew, the property had passed muster with Demers. What, she asked, was she supposed to do about that?

“It’s in district court,” said Donovan. “At this point, apparently, you get an attorney, because we will be represented by one.”

At the Sept. 9 selectmen’s meeting, Tibbetts said the Carruths had completed the required cleanup of their property on the day before their court appearance. Even so, he said, the town wanted to move forward with a consent agreement.

“What we wanted to do was have a consent order by the court on this property for it to be maintained clean, so that if it does happen where some material begins to accumulate we would not have to start the whole process over, but would be able to use that document as a gauge to go into the court for immediate action,” he explained to selectmen at the time.

“We’ve gone through this four times since I’ve been here [as a selectman] and I’m really not of a mind to go through it again,” said Searles, expressing hope at the time that the agreement would put an end to the issue.

Donovan, meanwhile, seemed to relish a premonition of what was to come.

“If you’re leaving junk all over your property and basically having no regard for the earth and this town we live in, whatever happens in the courts, I don’t have any sympathy for you,” he said.

According to Demers, the consent agreement included conditions for maintaining the property, as well as a requirement to repair the fence separating it from the public lot, in addition to the home occupation demand.

That document, as Tibbetts intimated, would seem to be the basis for the town’s upcoming case. After all, regardless of how the property looks to the casual observer, Demers was clear about one thing. In the eyes of state law, “They don’t qualify as a junkyard,” he said.

“They may have a trailer tipped over in the yard, but if it’s registered, there’s nothing I can do,” he said.

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