BUCKSPORT — The months-long dispute between the Town Council and Larry Green, the owner of the Fort Knox Park Inn on Main Street, just got a little closer to a confrontation in court.
At last week’s Town Council meeting, Town Manager Susan Lessard presented to the public new emails from Green, including one sent on his behalf by the law firm he hired, Rudman Winchell – Counselors at Law.
Green claims that noise from the waterfront walkway, which abuts his motel, disturbs his guests and hurts his business. His solution is to install a gate across the walkway at either end of his property and close it between 8 p.m. and 9:30 a.m. every day.
Green first proposed his solution to Lessard in January, and she brought the matter to the Town Council’s attention in early April. At nearly every Town Council meeting since then, Bucksport residents have spoken against the gate idea.
“I can tell you that from 5 o’clock in the morning the runners are out,” said Pearl Swenson, who lives in a building that overlooks the walkway and who spoke in April about the issue. “And then comes 7, 7:30, I can tell by the dogs that the walkers are out.”
“Never have I been disturbed by anyone on the walkway as I have been by guests in the parking lot of the Inn (and perhaps this is the noise guests may be reacting to)!,” said a waterfront resident who wrote an anonymous email to Lessard in late April.
Town residents and their representatives are less sympathetic to Green because he has yet to provide substantial evidence for his claims. In contrast, Lessard and a few councilors read dozens of reviews of the hotel on TripAdvisor.com and Hotels.com, only one of which mentioned concerns about privacy or noise.
At Lessard’s request, Police Chief Sean Geagan also assembled a list of all the times the police have responded to calls made by Green since 1993. Of all five waterfront noise-related disturbances on the list, four were caused by motel guests and one was caused by a ship in the river.
Still, according to an easement signed by Green and town officials when the walkway was first being built in 1992, the hotel owner has the right to build the gates. But after years of unfettered access to the walkway, town residents are strongly opposed to the plan.
Sensing this, Lessard and town councilors have considered using eminent domain to seize that part of Green’s property, but not before trying less invasive methods.
Since early April, Lessard and town councilors have proposed installing one-way windows, cameras and signage to protect Green’s guests. Green wrote that the windows were “not cost-effective,” and that putting in the new windows “would be very expensive, disruptive, and it was and is our opinion that it would not work because of the noise.”
Councilor Robert Carmichael spoke with one contractor who said the opposite.
“They didn’t give me the impression that that was a very difficult or expensive thing to do,” he said, specifically about the window treatments.
Frustrated with the town manager, Green wrote an email to Mayor and Council Chairman David Keene on May 9, saying that Lessard “really misled the Town Council. She also did not do her homework … she is a loose cannon.”
Green’s comments unnerved town councilors.
“I use the phrase ‘it puts the hair up on the back of my neck,’” said Councilor Paul Rabs. “Well, it’s standing pretty tall right now.”
In her letter to Lessard, Rudman Winchell associate Katie R. Foster wrote that, if the town uses eminent domain, “the town will need to compensate Mr. Green for the fair value of the property, including the adverse impact on his business, which we expect will be substantial.”
Foster’s message did not faze town councilors.
“Yes, there will be some expense involved, but I think the expense is probably going to be worth it,” said Councilor David Kee. “I say he’s left us with no option other than to go forward with eminent domain and let the chips fall where they may.”
Several townspeople in attendance said ‘yeah’ in response.
“I agree with Councilor Kee,” Rabs said. “Unfortunately if it comes to lawyers, let the games begin.”
The Town Council cannot officially use eminent domain until it votes on the matter, which will likely be at its next meeting. Until then, Lessard will find an appraiser who will start background work on the project.