BATH — After lengthy discussion, part of which was held in executive session, the City Council voted 7-1 Wednesday to fine an elderly couple $31,200 for code violations going back 26 years.
Mardouni and Esther Sharrigan, who own property at 107 Mallard Road, have proposed buying less than 0.3 percent of the adjoining Butler Head preserve to settle code violations committed because two of their buildings are on city land.
The fine imposes a penalty of $100 a month for the 26 years of violation. A regular penalty under the city code could be as much as $100 a day per violation, Code Enforcement Officer Scott Davis told the council.
Councilor David Sinclair, who voted in opposition, said “the penalty proposed is far too low for the egregious and willful violations over more than a quarter century.”
Councilor Meadow Rue Merrill said the issue, which the council also discussed last month, has been “a really difficult (one) to even begin to comprehend, because of how long the violations have occurred.”
She would also favor a higher penalty, she said, “were it not for the fact that we had knowledge – not personally, but as a city body – that those buildings had been there, and that no action had been taken prior to this point.”
The Sharrigans violated the city code by building two structures on city land and partly on their own property. They were granted an easement for less than an acre of that land in 1989 to install a septic system. They said they wanted to settle those long-standing violations and comply with the code, and have hoped to purchase most of that easement and a small non-easement area, and release the rest back to the city.
The Sharrigans’ attorney, John Bannon, has said the parcel they want to buy comprises less than 0.3 percent of Butler Head.
During last month’s discussions, Sinclair moved for the Sharrigans to be given one year to remove the structures from city land and comply with the code, and that if they did so, all fines they had accumulated would be forgiven. He did not not favor selling the couple the land.
The council ultimately voted – 6-2, with Councilor Sean Paulhus and Sinclair opposed – against Sinclair’s motion.
Some councilors have noted that the violations should have been addressed years ago. Several agreed last month that the $7,500 the Sharrigans had offered for the parcel was far too small.
Esther Sharrigan has told the council there is no place on their property to place the buildings. She said after Wednesday’s meeting that she and her husband could not afford the fine.
“We’re both on Social Security,” she said. “We get $2,000 a month; that’s it. That’s what we live off. … What are you going to do when you’re 86 and 76 years old? How are you going to pay for that?”
The couple noted that they have always paid taxes on the buildings.
City Manager Bill Giroux last month had suggested an appraisal be done of the property the Sharrigans want to purchase, but one has yet to occur. He said Wednesday that city staff agree the land the couple wants to buy is the minimum amount necessary to put them in compliance.
Sinclair moved that evening that the city decline to sell any additional land to the Sharrigans. He, Paulhus and Merrill voted in favor, with five other councilors opposed, defeating the motion.
The panel later voted 7-1, with Councilor Steve Brackett opposed, to have an appraisal done of the parcel the Sharrigans wish to purchase. But the fine would have to be paid first.
The council voted last February to convey a conservation easement on the preserve – an approximately 141-acre parcel in the northern part of the city, on Merrymeeting Bay – to the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust.
Giroux said at the time that the council had been approached several times about selling off small parts of the property. Other than the sale of less than one acre in 2012, he said he did not know of any other sale in the past seven years.
Sinclair had said he and Paulhus brought the item before the City Council last year “in hopes of protecting this natural and unique asset of the city in perpetuity from further development and/or sale.”
Members of the Bath Community Forestry Committee are among those who have argued that the entire preserve should be kept intact.