Water district to pay $33K for illegally razing North Yarmouth historic house

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The Yarmouth Water District will pay nearly $33,000 for illegally demolishing a 19th century Baston Road house in July.

The Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve a consent agreement with the district that imposes a $20,000 civil penalty. It also assesses the district for nearly $12,700 to reimburse the town for legal fees and expenses.

Steven Palmer, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he expected to receive a check Wednesday from the water district, which also approved the agreement Tuesday.

The district, which serves customers in Yarmouth and North Yarmouth, owns the property where the so-called Beckwith House stood. It had Scott Dugas Trucking & Excavating tear down the unoccupied building in July. Removal of the roof began July 8, with demolition of the entire structure competed July 13.

A permit is required before demolition of a building, and demolition of a pre-1900 structure requires notice to the North Yarmouth Historical Society at least 30 days before it is torn down.

But neither the district nor Dugas applied for a permit before demolition, and the society was not notified.

The district did apply to the town’s code enforcement officer, Barbara Skelton, for an “after-the-fact” demolition permit on July 17, which she granted the next day, according to the consent agreement. She determined the period of violation to be 40 days, from beginning of demolition to expiration of the 30-day notice period, the agreement states.

John Loyd, North Yarmouth’s Brunswick-based attorney, said in August that the water district, under state and local laws, could have faced fines of up to $2,500 each day after the ordinance was violated. That would have resulted in a fine of as much as $100,000 after 40 days.

The district offered the town an apology and compensation of $4,000 in August.

Palmer called the $20,000 fine “a negotiated figure” between the board and water district. Selectman Mark Girard said state statute has a broad range of potential penalties, and that the fine falls within that range.

Katie Murphy, president of the North Yarmouth Historical Society, expressed disappointment that the financial settlement was not greater. “I wish there had been a more creative settlement as well that would have been included in this that went beyond financial,” she said.

Murphy said she saw the occasion as “a teachable moment,” for “business entities out there who may be in the same position of the violators of the ordinance, and also the general public, too. There are property owners out there who may not have any idea about this, either.”

Resident Al Ahlers called $20,000 a “drop in the bucket” for the water district, and noted the importance of such a violation not happening again. He said North Yarmouth has many historic buildings, “and you would just hate to see somebody come in and tear something down.”

Palmer expressed hope that the historical society could work with the town to ensure that North Yarmouth’s historic homes are registered, with visible monuments or plaques, and to have notations on permits to determine whether the building predates 1900.

Resident Jenny Tuemmler suggested the $20,000 go toward creation of a registry, “whatever needs to be done to identify the important historic parts of North Yarmouth.”

As part of the agreement, the historical society is granted access to the property and the demolition debris, “sufficient to allow the Society to inventory and document such debris to its satisfaction.”

The district donated to the town an approximately 30-foot-long beam, as well as “boards which the Society has identified as being items that it wishes to have preserved for future use and display,” according to the agreement.

The district also has until Dec. 1 to do any digging around the foundation to retrieve what it considers to have archaeological significance, Palmer said.

Murphy said in July that the house was one of four original houses on Baston Road and appears on an 1857 map, but that it was likely to date from the early part of the 19th century.

Robert MacKinnon, superintendent of the Yarmouth Water District, said in July that he did not know a permit was required, and that he regretted not contacting Skelton in advance of demolition. He said the house was in “very poor condition,” and that the property was important for aquifer protection and would be kept as open space, possibly used for organic farming or haying.

MacKinnon declined Tuesday to comment on the matter. Stephen Gorden, a Yarmouth Water District trustee from North Yarmouth who had called the demolition “a tragedy of the worst kind,” said by phone that “I’m sorry that the incident occurred, and I’m glad (to) get this behind us, so that we can move on and serve the citizens.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or [email protected]. 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.