Sumner mobile home park expansion to proceed

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SUMNER – A selectman who wants to expand his mobile home park despite opposition from residents said Wednesday he will proceed with his plans after voters passed over a warrant article that called for their approval or rejection of the expansion.

Selectman Clifford S. McNeil said he will build two additional lots “very soon” on the 15 acres he owns on McNeil Road off Route 140. There are already three mobile homes there.

At a special town meeting Tuesday, residents voted 17 to 4 to pass over a warrant article that asked them to approve or reject the Planning Board’s earlier approval of a site plan review filed by McNeil.

McNeil approached the Planning Board last December about an expansion of the mobile home park. He has said he wants to initially add two homes, but he may add up to 20 over the next decade.

The issue stirred controversy in Sumner over the past several months. Several people opposed an expansion of the mobile home park.

Selectmen Chairman Tom Standard said Wednesday that while many residents are opposed to an expansion, they voted to pass over the article because McNeil could have successfully sued the town if voters rejected the Planning Board’s action, and a lawsuit would have been too expensive for the town.

“People didn’t want to approve it, but if they rejected it they were throwing money down a rathole,” he said.

A rejection vote would have essentially canceled the park’s expansion, but Standard said state law overrides town ordinances regarding mobile home parks. “State law governs trailer parks; our ordinance has no effect,” he said. “In every other case that I know of, our regulations can be more stringent than the state, but when it comes to trailer parks, the state says no, you can’t be more stringent than us.”

Standard said attorneys at the Maine Municipal Association advised him that the town would not win a lawsuit because state law ultimately governs trailer parks, not town ordinances. “MMA told us not to even have a town meeting. But our ordinance calls for one and we’re not going to break our ordinance,” he said.

When asked if he would have sued the town if voters rejected the Planning Board’s action, McNeil said, “I guess I wouldn’t have had a choice.”

But he said the town was not divided over the issue. “Everyone is working together,” he said. “I was pleased with the turnout (at the meeting) and all of the questions and comments from everyone.”

Standard said residents were unhappy that state law overrides local rules regarding trailer parks. “We’re great believers in local rule,” he said. “People are unhappy with state law that takes our control of local issues away from us.”

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