FREEPORT — The town will sue the Island Rover Foundation to prove ownership of a partially built schooner and have it removed from a residential property.
The Town Council on Dec. 6 approved taking the foundation to court to clarify that the town owns the 113-foot metal schooner on Lower Flying Point Road. The town will also be suing to enforce the terms of a consent agreement reached in 2014, which says the ship must be moved off the property.
The town took possession of the ship, which resident Harold Arndt began building more than 20 years ago, on Sept. 9, after the foundation failed to move the vessel by a court-ordered date. The town and the foundation reached the agreement in Maine Superior Court two years ago.
Council Chairwoman Sarah Tracy said although the town legally owns the ship, there needs to be more clarity, since the Island Rover Foundation in October informed the council that Carter Becker, owner of Falls Point Marine in Freeport, obtained partial ownership of the ship prior to Sept. 9.
“It’s difficult for the town to do anything until we figure out, or at least get some clarity around, the consent agreement,” Tracy said. “Certainly the best way to achieve that is to go back to court.”
Town Manager Peter Joseph on Dec. 1 sent a memo to councilors saying the Island Rover Foundation’s board had not responded to “several” attempts he made to set up a meeting with members of the foundation. On Dec. 6, he told councilors he met with Becker and the board the previous day.
The Town Council on Oct. 18 asked Joseph to meet with the board to draft an extension agreement it could consider at the Dec. 6 meeting. The extension had been requested by the Island Rover Foundation board on Oct. 4.
The town has granted the foundation several extensions in the past, even though the project does not comply with zoning laws. The ship is being built in a residential zone, which was allowed until Arndt put the project under the auspices of the nonprofit foundation in 2005.
Joseph said an extension agreement couldn’t be reached at the Dec. 5 meeting with Becker and the foundation’s board.
“The outcome of that was not that we had an agreement as requested by the council,” he said. “We did have lengthy discussion, but no formal agreement came out of that.”
Because no agreement was reached, the council on Dec. 6 met with the town attorney in executive session to discuss the next steps. Tracy said deciding to take the Island Rover Foundation back to court was a difficult decision, especially because it may cost the town money to move the ship.
“We don’t do this lightly,” she said. “I particularly do this with a heavy heart, mindful that this has the potential to use additional town resources. I’m not excited about that at all, but given the circumstances and upon the advice of our counsel, it seems the best way forward at the moment.”
Tracy said the town has tried its best to work with the foundation over the years, but that the time has come to take action.
“I believe the town has tried in good faith to make this work,” she said. “We have certainly indicated that we are open to giving Island Rover Foundation some room and additional time to complete the vessel.”
The creator of the Island Rover, Harold Arndt, stands in front of the partially completed 113-foot schooner in Freeport in 2012.