FREEPORT — A lawsuit facing the Island Rover Foundation is scheduled for a hearing Friday, Sept. 29.
The town is suing the foundation for allegedly violating a 2014 consent agreement reached in Maine Superior Court which said the Island Rover ship must be moved off property on Lower Flying Point Road.
The hearing will confirm if the vessel’s new location complies with town zoning.
The town took possession of the ship, which resident Harold Arndt began building more than 20 years ago, in September 2016 after the foundation failed to move the 113-foot metal schooner by a court-ordered date. In January, the town sought a contempt motion against the foundation.
The ship was being built in a residential zone, which was allowed until Arndt put the project under the auspices of the nonprofit foundation in 2005.
The Maine Superior Court held hearings in April, May and June to address the motion, which eventually produced a finding of contempt on June 26.
A June 30 court order gave the foundation until Aug. 22 to move the ship out of Freeport or to a conforming location in town.
The order called on the town to provide the foundation with a list of possible conforming locations. According to Town Manager Peter Joseph, it did so in July.
Joseph said on Sept. 21 that locations deemed suitable by the town’s zoning ordinance included commercial zones or marine waterfront zones.
“There are several nonresidential zones that (the Island Rover) could (be built) in,” he said. “… The construction, and even the storage, could be long-term on those sites.”
But on Aug. 22 the town found the vessel had been moved on hydraulic house movers only 100 feet to Bucknam Road, a private road in front of the property.
The town’s position in court is that the ship is still in a non-conforming location.
According to the June 30 court order, if the foundation failed to comply with the Aug. 22 deadline, it could be fined $500 per day until the vessel was moved. Fines have not been paid because the foundation believes Bucknam Road is a conforming location.
Joseph said he’s received complaints from two neighbors. The town was told that ownership of the private road is shared by all of the subdivision unit owners in the neighborhood.
“People have complained about (the ship being built there), but we’re also aware that there are probably people who are in favor of it,” Joseph said.
He said Friday’s hearing will determine whether the Island Rover is in a conforming location for commercial building and manufacturing.
“If it’s a conforming location then the finding of contempt will go away,” Joseph said. “But, if it’s not, we’ll just keep soldiering on with the lawsuit.”
An additional lawsuit was filed by the town in 2016 to claim ownership of the vessel; that lawsuit is pending. Joseph said the town and the foundation have agreed to a delay because the dispute may be resolved if the foundation adheres to the conditions outlined in the contempt order and launches the boat.
“If the boat is launched, that’s great and the ownership wouldn’t matter,” Joseph said. “If the contempt lawsuit can solve the issue, then we don’t need that second lawsuit.”
When asked Sept. 26 to comment on the foundation’s stance in the lawsuit, Arndt said a foundation-wide policy had been enacted not to publicly discuss the dispute.
A court hearing is scheduled Friday to decide whether the 113-foot Island Rover is being built in a conforming zone in town. The metal schooner is owned by Harold Arndt and the Island Rover Foundation.