Wiscasset Appeals Board tables MDOT appeal

Posted:  Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 11:00am

On Monday night, the Wiscasset Board of Appeals tabled the matter of whether or not Maine Department of Transportation was required to seek a certificate of appropriateness from the Wiscasset Historic Preservation Commission to demolish the Haggett building.

Code Enforcement Officer Stanley Waltz sent a letter to David Bernhardt of MDOT on Nov. 17 stating a COA was necessary to proceed with the demolition of the Water Street building. A letter to the same effect also was sent by Town Manager Marian Anderson on the same date.

MDOT filed an appeal Dec. 15, but the Appeals Board was not notified until Jan. 12, Chair Susan Blagden said. That meant the town could not have held the appeal within the 30-day deadline, and in fact, she said, a waiver had already been worked out between MDOT and the town’s lawyers, who are the same lawyers working on a separate but related issue in court, a consent agreement allowing the demolition to go forward.

Blagden said the board’s only option was to table the appeal, because when MDOT filed the appeal, it had also filed a case in Superior Court to set aside the town’s historic preservation ordinance in the matter. The case was moved to the Business and Consumer Court. MDOT argues it is not required to follow the local ordinance because state law does not require it to follow any local ordinance in furtherance of MDOT’s mission to improve roads, bridges, or traffic control. 

Lawyers for MDOT did not appear. According to a memo from MDOT attorney Nathaniel Rosenblatt to the appeals board, MDOT worked out a deal with the town’s lawyers that no action would be taken at the appeal hearing.

The motion to table the appeal passed 4-1, with Peter Rines opposed. He stated he believed the role of the Appeals Board was to speak for local government, and that the board should not be hampered by action or inaction of the state courts.

Blagden said after the vote, “I will say that the whole proceeding of this appeal has been extraordinary. This appeal was received by the town office on Dec. 15, and we were not notified until Jan. 12.” She said this caused the appeal not to occur in a timely fashion, and that in the meantime, a waiver was granted without the board’s notification. ”I think our lawyers, MDOT, and our Board of Selectmen should all take notice of the way this town is being run.”

Town Manager Marian Anderson said that because the appellant controls the appeals process, and can ask for the appeal to be tabled or postponed, there was nothing unusual about the discussion among the legal counsels to hold off on the appeal. "When you have this many lawyers involved in an issue, it takes time. There were several conversations among the lawyers, and finally, our town lawyers said that the appeal should go forward, which is why the Appeals Board even got the case," she said in a phone interview Feb. 13.