Water district illegally razes historic North Yarmouth home

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Residents at Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting sharply criticized the illegal demolition last week of a 19th century house on Baston Road.

The Yarmouth Water District, which serves customers in Yarmouth and North Yarmouth, owns the Baston Road property and tore down the unoccupied building Friday, July 13.

Selectmen took no action Tuesday, since there was no related item on the agenda, but the board will meet with the town’s attorney and probably with district officials to discuss possible penalties, Chairman Steven Palmer said.

“There is recourse, but that is recourse that needs to be addressed at a different time by the board,” Palmer said. “… There is an issue that needs to be dealt with, and that will be dealt with; there’s no question about that.”

Barbara Skelton, the town’s code enforcement officer, said Monday that a permit is required before demolition of a building, and that demolition of a pre-1900 structure requires notice to the North Yarmouth Historical Society.

No permit was issued, and the society was not notified.

“This is a huge surprise and a shock to many, many of us in the town,” society President Katie Murphy said Tuesday. “… Did anyone go over from the Yarmouth Water District and take a look before ordering the demolition? If they did, they would have realized the house was very old.”

Murphy said the house was one of four original houses on Baston Road and appears on an 1857 map, but that it is likely to be from the early part of the century.

“This demolition is an unbelievable lapse in judgment, a disregard for process and a disrespect for history of both North Yarmouth and Yarmouth,” she said. “… What was the rush?”

Murphy urged the Board of Selectmen to take action against the district for the demolition, saying that according to state law, penalties range from $200 to $5,000.

“I’ll take responsibility for this error,” Robert MacKinnon, superintendent of the Yarmouth Water District, said Tuesday. “I didn’t know that we needed a permit. If I could change things, I certainly would.”

He said the district hired a Yarmouth contractor, Scott Dugas, to raze the building, and expressed regret Monday for not contacting Skelton in advance.

The district purchased the property last month for resource protection, “and it was our intent to take (the building) down,” he said. “Had I known it was going to be a problem, hindsight’s 20-20.”

MacKinnon said the house was in “very poor condition,” and that the property, important for aquifer protection, will now be kept as open space. It may be used for organic farming or haying, he said.

MacKinnon said he now understands the historical society’s concern.

Stephen Gorden, a Water District trustee from North Yarmouth, apologized for what he called a “horrendous error” made by the district, noting that “historically, it’s a tragedy of the first kind.”

Joan Mason of Milliken Road asked the Board of Selectmen to ensure such an incident does not happen again.

“If there’s a fine or a fee, then I think that’s fair,” she said. “I don’t think an apology is really enough.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.