FALMOUTH — A Superior Court decision last week brought to a close a dispute between former resident Mary Alice Davis and developer Eric Cianchette.
But it rekindled questions about the status of the Shaw’s supermarket heiress’ former property and its 15,000-square-foot mansion.
The court found Davis’ company, Davis Land Development LLC, misrepresented facts to Cianchette when he purchased the Sherwood Forest subdivision on Woodville Road. It said Davis owed Cianchette $50,000, but did not engage in fraud.
In 2004, shortly before a scheduled bankruptcy auction, Cianchette purchased the the 1990s mansion at 200 Woodville Road from Davis, along with property at 178 Woodville Road and Sherwood Forest’s 160 abutting acres, for $4.5 million. In December 2006, Cianchette donated the mansion and five acres of land to the University of Maine Foundation, the largest one-time gift the university has ever received from an individual or family. At that time, the donation was valued at $4.2 million.
More than two years later, the school and the town are “discussing alternatives” but continue to disagree on approved uses for the property, which remains unused, according to Amos Orcutt, president and chief executive of the foundation.
“We’d like to use it for our own charitable purposes and to allow the town to use it for functions and meetings,” Orcutt said.
He said the town believes the property is not zoned for those uses and that the university must work to get it rezoned or get a contract zone. “Those things are costly and time-consuming,” Orcutt said.
“They view us as public, that’s where the differences are,” he said. “We view ourselves as a private organization.”
Community Development Director Amanda Stearns said the town is “not at odds” with the university, but must enforce the zoning ordinances and building codes. The property is currently zoned for farm and forest use.
“The property is not zoned for some of the activities they want to use the building for,” Stearns said.
Although the Town Council could amend the zoning, typically it is the property owner who would come forward with a proposal, she said, which must then go through the usual review process.
“The town isn’t solving individual property owners’ problems,” Stearns said. “The university accepted the property in the condition that it’s in with the approved uses; I think they knew full well what they were getting. Obviously, the town hopes we come to some amenable solution.”
Orcutt said several groups have expressed interest in using the facility, including the Falmouth School Department.
Though the mansion is not being used at this time, he said the university must keep it heated in winter and employ a caretaker to oversee its maintenence.
When asked why he thought it’s been so complicated to get approval, Orcutt said, “Someone said, ‘You’re just in Falmouth.’ Falmouth seems to have a lot of rules, but you can look at a rule book in two different ways.”