Debate continues in Falmouth over use of energy-efficient building

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FALMOUTH — For the owner of TideSmart Global, changing the use of a structure built on his property has turned into a challenge.

Yarmouth resident Steve Woods, who is a columnist for The Forecaster, owns the eco-friendly marketing firm at 380 U.S. Route 1. He has been trying to change the use of a recently constructed energy efficient house on his company’s campus from residential to commercial since the beginning of summer. It was originally scheduled to go before the Planning Board on June 2.

It was bumped at the last minute to the Board of Zoning Appeals, which ultimately backed the changes Woods was requesting on July 28. And though it was on the agenda for the Planning Board’s Sept 8 meeting, it was eventually tabled so board members could get a legal opinion.

That’s because the scene at that meeting quickly changed to that of a court room, with lawyers debating Woods’s right, title and interest in the property.

Chris Neagle, an attorney representing Peter Kennedy, the neighbor who sold Woods the land, claimed Kennedy has an easement that was being ignored. Neagle said the structure, known as the Viridescent House, was smack in the middle of that easement.

At the meeting, Woods claimed Kennedy forced the easement into the sale agreement at the last minute, and said it should not be part of the Planning Board’s discussion.

“I’ve done my part relative to being a corporate citizen,” Woods said. He said his intent with the Viridescent House was to do something good.

Scott Anderson, a lawyer representing Woods, said there is no dispute that Woods owns the property, and said there are no plans that outline where the easement is, because the agreement was essentially to allow an easement if one is needed in the future.

The easement discussion did not come up at the BZA meeting, and was not included in the information provided to Planning Board members on Sept. 8. Neagle, who is also the chairman of the Cumberland Planning Board, provided information to the board about the easement.

Ethan Croce, the town’s senior planner, said when Kennedy sold the land to Woods there apparently was an easement placed on it, which Kennedy indicated included vehicular rights. Croce said a lot of times, easements are laid out very specifically. However, the issue is the easement is “not defined on the face of the earth,” he said.

“It’s difficult when you receive information on the night of a meeting, but sometimes just that’s the nature of the beast,” Croce said. “It makes it challenging to be able to respond to things for the first time.”

Croce said TideSmart could resubmit to be on the Oct. 6 agenda. The legal review would likely not be complete by the submission deadline, but Croce said that would not prohibit Woods from resubmitting.

The house in question, at 91 Johnson Road, replaced a previous home  that was destroyed in a winter storm. Woods has said before he believes it to be the most energy efficient building in Maine.

He needed town permission to change the use because the house is a residential structure within a commercial zone, and because it falls in a buffer that prohibits commercial structures within 75 feet of the Residential A zoning district.

Croce said there are non-legal issues the board wants addressed, too, including site plan review details and a better understanding of traffic from the structure to the existing TideSmart campus.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

TideSmart Global is seeking to change the use of this energy efficient building at 91 Johnson Road in Falmouth from residential to commercial.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or