'Bamboozled' Brunswick council delays Mere Point decision

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BRUNSWICK — In a packed Tuesday night meeting that lasted nearly five hours, the Town Council tabled whether to make property at 946 Mere Point Road a public park. 

After calling the meeting to order at least twice during the night, Chairwoman Sarah Brayman felt the need to put off the decision until Sept. 19.

In all, the council heard from five town committees, and took public comment from 22 people. Many spoke about matters of principle, justice, and the conduct of proponents on both sides of the issue; councilors suggested they were being “bamboozled” and subjected to “bait-and-switch” tactics.

The town acquired the parcel in 2011 when its prior owner, Richad Nudd, failed to pay taxes on the shorefront property. Town Manager John Eldridge listed the sequence of events that led to the town foreclosing on the property, which included the new information that a man posing as Nudd’s stepson attempted and failed to acquire the parcel on Nudd’s behalf between 2012 and 2013.

After his failure to pay back taxes (now amounting to nearly $64,900) during the 18-month window following the notice of foreclosure, Nudd lost his right to reacquire the property. It then became the council’s responsibility to decide what to do with the land, which has been appraised at approximately a quarter of a million dollars.

Sometime in 2011 after the 18-month window closed, Nudd offered to pay $500 a month to reclaim the property, but the town rejected the plan. That was the last they heard from Nudd directly until June 2016, when he restated his interest. However, a man identified by Eldridge only as Mr. Godfrey contacted the town in 2012 claiming he was Nudd’s stepson and was interested in getting the property back.

“We have now been told that this person was not Mr. Nudd’s stepson,” Eldridge said.

The identity of “Mr. Godfrey” was not the only suspicion raised Tuesday.

During his statement defending Nudd’s right to reclaim his former property, Andre Duchette, an attorney with the Portland-based firm Taylor, McCormack & Frame, was accused by councilors of appearing under false pretenses.

Believing that Nudd was his client, the council invited Duchette to present his case for returning the parcel back to Nudd. Duchette argued that Nudd’s inability to act swiftly to retain his property was caused after he fell on hard times financially and a resulting sense of hopelessness.

At one point, Duchette displayed a check for the exact amount of back taxes owed.

This not only prompted a small gasp from the audience, but also Councilor Steve Walker to ask if abutters of the property – many of whom have publicly opposed the idea of public access – had fronted the money for Nudd’s purchase. 

The council then learned that Duchette, in fact, represents an unidentified individual who hopes to purchase the property in the event it is returned to Nudd.

“My understanding,” Brayman said, “was that you were a representative of Mr. Nudd, that he was your client.”

“I’m here on behalf of Mr. Nudd,” Duchette clarified. “He has not hired me.”

“Can you tell me who’s paying you?” Walker asked.

“I cannot and will not,” Duchette said.

“I think I’m being bamboozled here,” Councilor John Perreault said. “I think they’re trying to backdoor the whole situation,” he continued, referring to Duchette’s lack of transparency and to the possible collusion of Mere Point residents to thwart the council.

Walker agreed, calling the ordeal an “unethical bait-and-switch.” Walker’s comment caused Brayman to call the meeting to order, citing the council’s code of conduct.

In an effort to clear up matters, Duchette said he was approached privately by his client to act as the official representative, but admitted he also had a personal interest in the outcome of the issue.

Duchette said he would not be paid with money from the difference between his client’s hypothetical sale of Nudd’s property and the repaid taxes. He confirmed that in that scenario, Nudd would keep the difference, and Duchette might even represent him in the sale after all sides signed documents preventing a conflict of interest.

After the meeting, Duchette said he did not regret the way he conducted himself.

He also claimed that Nudd “wouldn’t be (an exception)” if the town allows him to buy back the property, arguing that Nudd is still entitled to the 18-month window since the town is only now considering use or sale of the property.

Though she was sympathetic to his plight, Brayman expressed concern about what kind of precedent it would set if the town allowed Nudd to reclaim his property.  

“Mr. Nudd had eight or nine years to pay his taxes,” she said. “What do I tell other taxpayers?”

Stephen Langsdorf, the town’s attorney, flatly contradicted Duchette’s argument in a memo provided in the meeting’s agenda packet. He said he town’s Tax Acquired Real Estate Policy does not obligate the town to return Nudd’s property.

After Duchette’s comments, the council heard presentations from members of the Marine Resources Committee, the Conservation Commission, the Recreation Commission, the Planning Board, and the Rivers and Coastal Waters Commission. Except for the latter two panels, each found substantial value in the possibility of public access to the parcel, including the potential from clamming and passive recreation.

“Opportunities don’t come like this often,” Mark Latti, Marine Resources chairman, said. He noted not only the inherent value of the coastal land’s clam flats, but that most clam flats are off privately held land, and could become inaccessible if there is a “new, unfriendly landlord.”

The ability to secure a public access point for clammers would be a boon to the town, he said.

During pubic comment, proponents of a possible park expressed their desire for more public access to the water. 

Collen McKenna, a former member of the Conservation Commission, said “all residents, not just Mere Pointers” deserve access to the ocean. Brunswick has 61 miles of coastline, but only three are designated for public access.

To the “Mere Pointers,” she posed the question, “What is so bad about the public? Why are we so bad?”

“I feel like the subtext here is that there’s a broader interest among (us)” for “more access to water,” Vladimir Douhovnikoff of Longfellow Avenue said. 

He said the the “essence” of the debate was ethical, and revolved around the fear of “a changing neighborhood.”

John Mcgoldbrick of Mere Point Road countered that “you’ll be destroying the neighborhood. You’ll be turning it into a place we don’t want to live in.”

Another Mere Point Road resident, Susan Fuller, urged consideration of what it would feel like to receive a notice that the property next door would become a parking lot.

Not everyone who opposed the park lives on Mere Point Road; some were residents who said it is better to have the property on the tax rolls.

Heather Osterfeld, of Wild Astor Lane, who described herself as the public face of the park opposition, was the last to speak during public comment. In the event of the parcel going to a private sale, she said she would volunteer to head a committee to raise funds for the infrastructure, clamming initiatives, and recreational activities that a potential park would provide – except it would be invested elsewhere.

“And peace shall reign across the town of Brunswick,” she concluded, prompting laughter from the entire room.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Speakers line up to discuss the future of 946 Mere Point Road during the public comment portion of the Sept. 7 Brunswick Town Council meeting. The meeting lasted almost five hours.

Andre Duchette, an attorney hired by an undisclosed buyer interested in purchasing 946 Mere Point Road, makes his case against public access during the Sept. 7 Brunswick Town Council meeting.

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Reporter on the Brunswick/Harpswell beat. Proud Bowdoin grad that you can find reporting on municipal, school, and community news, or inside the many coffee and sandwich shops around the Midcoast. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100.
  • Chew H Bird

    Just think, the back tax money could be used to expand waterfront access at the existing boat launch so the people who cannot afford to own a boat could use the facility for something other than picnic tables, (since there is no swimming or fishing)… Or, the back tax money could be used to help Brunswick’s homeless population, or even hire a teacher for a year? So what if someone wants to purchase the property from Nudd? The bottom line is Brunswick has a absolute obligation to collect the tax funds and to not be in the real estate business when there is a better full time facility a half mile away that has restroom facilities.

    • Constant

      Wrong. The boat launch money prohibits that. Do you ever speak for the regular people in Brunswick? Do you bother to understand the town’s history of wanting more access? Nope. Just make stuff up, like the NIMBYs.

      • Chew H Bird

        So back tax money is not important to Brunswick? You say the funds for the boat launch prohibit expanding it so the “regular people of Brunswick” who do not own boats can more fully utilize the facility? Or do you mean the regular people of Brunswick who watched our town purchase the old Times Record building, sink money into it, and then pay to have it removed? The town has plenty of access for people who either make their living with boats or are wealthy enough to have recreational watercraft.

        I grew up next to mud flats so having a small parking lot with picnic tables (which is already available at the fancy boat launch) makes no sense to me at all, period, except perhaps for someone to brag about one more public water location which is small, with part time water, steep grade, and no bathroom facilities.

        • Constant

          I corrected your complete fiction, that more uses can be added to the boat launch. That is all. That you are also opposed to public access is your problem.

          • Constant

            But, more fiction to correct. 4 acres is not small, it is less tidal than almost every other access site, and who said no bathroom facilities? That is for the town to decide, not you.

          • Chew H Bird

            I do not understand your conclusion that I am opposed to public access. I do not have waterfront property and I do not own a boat. I am all for public access, but I want that access to make economical sense, provide full time access (not half time water and half rime mud), and I would like sufficient parking, sufficient picnic tables, some sort of restroom facilities, and I would like the ability to both swim and fish, as well as just hang out and enjoy the scenery. This location is lacking in many ways and if the neighbors find a lawyer the costs will skyrocket for a small patch of dirt parking lot that and partial water access with no facilities that will likely be a hangout for high school kids doing what they should not be doing in the first place.

          • Constant

            This location is lacking in all of the ways that Brunswick’s coast is lacking, so if you’re not for this one, you are saying game over for coastal access in Brunswick. And, if you are such a wuss that you think a bunch of rich people hiring at attorney is a reason not to do something, that’s just sad. Not one of Brunswick’s facilities has high school kid hanging out issues. Your opposed to public access. Whether you say so or not. I’m out.

          • Chew H Bird

            Apparently you are from away… I know where I hung out in high school…

      • Jimmy_John67

        The town’s history of wanting more water access? Off the top of my head I can think of eight separate public places in Brunswick with water access. Half of those are rarely to never used. Clearly there is not a big demand for more water access. How about we wait until people are using all the existing access points before taking property off the tax rolls to add more.

        • Constant

          Lousy access at most places in Brunswick means not many users, which is not rocket science. How about you read any of Brunswick’s reports on coastal access? Easier to spout off, clearly.

          • Jimmy_John67

            First off, of the eight access locations I mention, at seven of those locations you can drive a car basically to waters edge.

          • Constant

            Short walk? Um, completely bogus. I have been to every single one of those sites, and the “short walk” is over 1/2 mile. Wrong again for you! The “steep bank” has not stopped the neighbors from putting in steps to get to the water – not even long steps… so, wrong again!

          • Jimmy_John67

            I have taken my 79 year old mother on that walk and she had no difficulty at all. Guess she is just in better shape then you. Also you think people who aren’t physically able to walk a half mile are going to walk up and down steps instead of driving up to any of the other locations, all of which have shade, places to sit and easy access to the water. Seriously try visiting the sites instead of just spouting off lies. You will look less foolish that way.

          • Constant

            Don’t you think it’s cheap to have 2 names for one guy? Trust me, no one looks as foolish as you at this point. Anti-access, apparently with zero knowledge on the actual access sites. A cover for one of our counselors? My bet!

          • Jimmy_John67

            Two names for one guy? What are you even talking about at this point? It is clear you have some issues and I don’t debate with the mentally challenged so best of luck with your crusade!

          • Constant

            And why is driving a car to the water’s edge such great access? No place to sit, mostly, all out in the sun, no place to get into the water… you must be a coastal property owner, whose got yours and don’t want to share!

  • farmertom2

    This is ridiculous. The town should absolutely refuse to transfer the land to any other party save at full market value (not assessed value, not at some prior value, not for back taxes) or else simply keep the property and turn it into a small park for the townspeople to use. Those are the only two acceptable and reasonable solutions.

    • Chew H Bird

      Why would anyone pull into a small dirt parking lot with half the tide being mudflats when there is a stellar launch site half a mile away with picnic tables and facilities? And why should the entire town population allow tax dollars to be wasted on such a small part time parcel when we have so many needs (which are different than “wants”)?

      • farmertom2

        Because. Because we can. Because we can afford it. Because if it turns out that no one uses it and you’re right then the town can decide in three years or five or ten or twenty or fifty to sell the land. Right now we all own the land and there is no reason to be in a rush to get rid of it. A little park there could be fun and people might enjoy it so let’s try it out and see. And if they don’t then the town can put the land on the market and sell it for full market value– considerably more than is being offered at the moment. Why would anyone…anything? Rock climb, snowshoe, skydive, ski? It might not be your thing, but it might make enough people happy to justify it being there. That’s good enough.