Homeowners take Falmouth to court in water views dispute

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FALMOUTH — Angered by a Zoning Board of Appeals decision allowing construction of a home at 32 Andrews Ave. that could obscure their water views, two local couples are suing the town in Superior Court.

In their court filing, Andrew Beahm, executive director of Maine Audubon, and his wife, Deborah Megna, along with Patrice and Donald Walsh, claim the zoning board acted incorrectly and its decision should be overturned.

In the meantime, members of the board said at their July 25 meeting that they would like the Town Council to consider making amendments to the water views protection ordinance to make the standard of review less subjective.

Under the ordinance, a project is not supposed to be allowed to move forward if it would cause a “significant and adverse impact” on views from adjacent or nearby properties.

But, appeals board member Stan Given said at last month’s meeting, opinions often differ on what constitutes a “significant” impact.

“I feel like no matter how we vote, somebody is losing out. Somebody can’t do what they want on their own property or someone loses a view they value,” he said.

Board alternate Jay Trickett said evaluating the impact on water views “has been the most contentious issue by far” to come before the board in the past six months.

Nathan Smith, chairman of the board, suggested that members shouldn’t just say the current ordinance on water views is not working and said it might make sense to have a few recommendations ready, instead of going to the council empty-handed.

“I would (definitely) like to see if we could clarify the ordinance,” he said.

Given said he’d be willing to research how other towns approach the issue and said he’d like to “light a fire” under the water views standards question, since it’s likely to be something that will come up over and over again.

In the end, with the advice of Justin Brown, Falmouth’s code enforcement officer, the zoning board agreed that a good first step would be meeting with the town attorney to outline the questions and issues members have regarding the water views ordinance, along with any other topics of interest.

Brown this week said he cannot speak for the board, “but I believe that some of the concern regarding the water view language is the lack of guidance in the criteria for determining (what constitutes) a significant adverse impact.”

He also agreed with board members that “the situations that tend to elicit the most discussion are projects located within the Water View Overlay District.”

This includes an ongoing dispute among neighbors regarding alterations made to a home at 27 Town Landing Road that some residents say didn’t follow the plans submitted and approved by the zoning board.

The Andrews Avenue project, which has led to the Superior Court lawsuit, involves a two-story, single-family home that would be built on a vacant lot.

Beahm and his wife live at 24 Andrews Ave., so are immediate abutters, but the Walshes live at 17 Whitney Road, which is on the next street.

In documents submitted to Superior Court, both couples argue that allowing a home to be built on the vacant lot would lead to a significant loss of their water views.

The Walshes claim their views of Casco Bay would be 100 percent obstructed, while Beahm and his wife say they would lose 20 to 25 percent of their view, which now includes the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland and Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth.

In their lawsuit, the couples argue the zoning board “committed numerous errors of law, abused its discretion, failed to render specific findings, failed to conduct a proper site (re)view and failed to require the requisite written support” required of the developer.

In particular, the couples complain that the board only conducted one site visit to the Walshes’ home, and it was on a day in late April when it was too foggy to see the water.

The couples also say the board “inexplicably failed to view” photos submitted by Beahm, which showed how his view would be obstructed by the house being planned at 32 Andrews.

The couples argue that if any of the nine criteria listed under Falmouth’s conditional use are not met, a permit cannot be granted.

Water view obstruction is the only criteria being challenged, but “either a project meets all nine criteria or it does not,” the lawsuit says.

The town has responded that both couples were “permitted to present documentary and testimonial evidence” to the zoning board, which ultimately found there was no significant impact to the water views in question.

This story has been updated to correctly attribute a quote.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

The view of Casco Bay from the vacant lot at 32 Andrews Ave. in Falmouth. Neighbors object to the Zoning Board of Appeals allowing a home to be built there because it would obstruct their water views.

  • Jim Wiegand

    Views might only count for the privileged. Over the last 20 years Audubon has helped to spoil many of the fabulous views in rural America by supporting the fraudulent eagle slaughtering industry, known as wind energy. Since National Audubon deals first hand with Interior Department corruption, Andrew Beahm’s view problem is likely to disappear in the near future.

    • Penny Gray

      Yes, I use to be a member of Audubon until I heard them testify in favor of the Bowers project and other industrial wind projects being proposed for (and built on) Maine’s mountains. They are no longer an environmental group or an advocate for migratory or endangered birds and raptors, but I do have fond memories of being a young child at Audubon day camp, spending my days squishing around the edges of ponds with my bird I.D. paper and my paper bag lunch.

      • Jim Wiegand

        Good for you. Not only should members quit. They should file a class action lawsuit to get all their donations and memberships back. They should do this because there in nothing in this world as devastating to birds species and wind energy.

  • Rhonda Southand

    Maine Audubon has never given a crap about someone else’s views while trading protection of one location for the right to destroy another. As any resemblance of a true environmentalist group, they are treasonous to their initial purpose and work against others that hold different purposes of environmental protection. Now the hypocrisy of one of their members comes to light. There are many more. These Professional well funded Enviros have all in one way or another let Maine citizens down so long as they get a glint being protective. They do not either realize that it is the connective EcoSystem or just do not care as they enjoy their paychecks from donors. [OP]

  • Jim_L

    Mr Beahm and his wife are Elite, Selfish, Aristocratic, Hypocrites who don’t give one s**** about us “ordinary” people here in Northern Maine. Notice there are no wind turbines proposed around Southern Maine where all the elites live. They portend to care about the wilderness and wildlife of Maine, but they really care about themselves and the money they collect from the corrupt wind and solar industry to endorse their products. If the full impact of the of the Audubon Society came down on the ANTI wind issue, it might make a difference as it might make the ordinary people wake up to the hoax of “global warming”, now called climate change because they can’t explain the lack of warming for the last two decades. John Audubon would roll over in his grave.

    I have to look out the front of my eighty year old camp from the comfortable front porch at night and see flashing lights from the 27 wind turbines across the lake when it used to be a Bortle 1 nightsky. Sorry Mr. Beahm, that destroyed my experience, one that has been going on for the 70 years of my life.

    If the board is disposed to grant their wishes, I’m almost sure it will be some kind of a payoff to either the town or the proposed new owners. That is the way these kind of things are done with politicians and Environmental groups.

  • Don Quixote

    When the floodwaters rise with the mythical global warming hoax that Audubon is so worried about, what are they going to care about their view? They will be under 10 feet of water according to AlGore.

    • Jim Wiegand

      By accepting fraudulent research their view can be restored with the mountain of mitigation funds stolen from taxpayers .

  • Don Quixote

    I went online and looked at Google Earth and the addresses given in the article and fail to see how ANY building on that lot would in ANY way obstruct Mr. Beahm’s view from his house of the Bay. Maybe if they put a 600 foot wind turbine on that lot it might be somewhat of a distraction. And the neighbor on Whitney St.? WOuld not block their veiw either. Just seems like some kind of a vendetta against whoever is trying to build there.