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.
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.