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BRUNSWICK — Maine’s highest court ordered dismissal of a lawsuit that claimed the Town Council violated its charter by not holding a public hearing on use of land at Mere Point.
The court said the question is moot because the town has already sold the land.
A Superior Court ruling last August affirmed the Brunswick Town Council had a right to reject a petition by Brunswick Citizens for Collaborative Government to hold a referendum to make tax-acquired waterfront land at 946 Mere Point Road into a park.
The town sold the property in June 2017 for $550,000 to Daniel and Kathryn Frost of Irvine, California, after voting 5-4 in September 2016 to sell the property instead of using it to create more public shoreline access.
The 2017 ruling also stated the town should have held a public hearing on the group’s petition, but that the issue had been rendered moot by the sale of the property.
The citizens group appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court, arguing the Superior Court was incorrect in its finding. The SJC on July 12 rejected their case.
During oral arguments March 7, David Lourie, an attorney for the citizens’ group, contended the Superior Court erred when it said Brunswick’s charter does not authorize a voter initiative to overrule a Town Council decision to sell a piece of town-owned residential property.
Lourie argued that though Mere Point was a “done deal,” his clients were seeking instructions from the court “telling the Brunswick Town Council they can’t do this in the future.”
He also said the Superior Court decision could prevent other residents from going forward with an initiative because of its “chilling effect.”
“The fact is that petitioning for an initiative is not for the weak or the lazy,” he said. “You can’t reasonably expect people to go out there and collect signatures if they know that a hostile council is not going to move the ordinance from point A to point B.”
Stephen Langsdorf, town attorney for Brunswick, told the high court that after the September 2016 vote to sell the property, petitioners “contacted the clerk’s office to ask for referendum proceedings to overrule the order.”
He said he then told the petitioners “as a matter of courtesy” that though they had a constitutional right to come forward with a petition, his opinion was that it was not proper procedure.
“The town has every right to set its form of government any way it chooses to, and it has chosen to establish a strong council and limited right of initiative and referendum,” Langsdorf argued.
The decision written by SJC Chief Justice Leigh Saufley states because the Superior Court’s decision took place after the land was sold, no declaration by the court could have provided any “meaningful relief” to the citizens’ group.
It also states the interpretation of Brunswick’s charter may have “little bearing” on other town charters, and the group provided “no evidence” that the specific question regarding the charter will recur and require guidance from the court.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that Brunswick’s sale of land at Mere Point, seen here from offshore, effectively rendered moot a legal challenge from nearby residents. (File)