BUCKFIELD – Selectmen and Town Manager Cindy Dunn responded Tuesday night to a letter from resident Beverly Bennett, which accused Dunn, as the town’s code enforcement officer, of violating the building permit, lot dimension and setback ordinance on her own property. Dunn’s property on Route 117 on Streaked Mountain abuts the property of Beverly and Roland Bennett.

In a letter dated May 9, Bennett claims that a swimming pool, built in 1988, a deck originally built in 1989 and rebuilt last year, and an existing A-frame structure on the Dunns’ property is within the Bennetts’ property line. The letter was mailed to the homes of selectmen, and the chairmen of the planning board and board of appeals.

According to Dunn, she sought permits for both the swimming pool and deck in 1988 and 1989 and was told by the code enforcement officer of the time that any proposed construction costing less than $5,000 was not subject to the permit process. A permit was obtained recently when the Dunns replaced the 12-by-12 deck with a 12-by-24 deck, Dunn said.

In her letter, Bennett offered to grant the Dunns a variance if selectmen would place a 10-year moratorium on new buildings, specifically the town garage and fire house.

“I don’t see how the Bennetts think they can enter into an agreement with the town to negotiate. This is ridiculous,” said Selectman Oscar Gammon.

“The Bennetts are holding the Dunns property hostage in my opinion,” added Selectman Joanne Bly.

The Dunns have lived on their property for 23 years. During the past 10 years, the Bennetts have engaged in a one-sided land dispute, blazing their property line, and some of the Dunns’ personal property, ever-closer to the Dunns’ “back yard,” said Dunn. This culminated last week when Dunn returned home from work to find Bennett in her back yard staking a line for a wire fence.

“I confronted Mrs. Bennett about the safety concern a wire fence could pose to animals and children running in my back yard. Mrs. Bennett only said, ‘How many children do you have anyway?'” said Dunn. “When I asked her why after 23 years of being neighbors she felt a need to put up a fence she informed me, ‘I don’t like how you’re running this town so the fence is going up.'”

Dunn was emotionally shaken and unable to read her written response to Bennett’s letter before the board. She requested that Selectman Gammon read it for her, which he did.

“I feel sad that our neighbors feel they need to attack us on a personal level in order to gain something on a town level,” Dunn said.

Roland and Beverly Bennett have been vocal in their opposition to a proposed new town garage project. They co-created the Buckfield Concerned Citizens Group last year, which investigated the possibility of discontinuing the town’s highway garage and contracting out for roads’ services. However, when the group decided not to back an article at last year’s town meeting proposing to discontinue the highway garage, the Bennetts went on to support the article alone. It was handily defeated by a majority of voters.

Roland Bennett attempted to resubmit the article for this year’s town warrant but was informed that the selectmen had adopted a policy requiring any out of the ordinary article to go through a petition process. The Bennetts did not pursue the matter.

“I think we should see a lawyer about this,” said Fire Chief Steve Bly, who was present at Tuesday night’s meeting. “This is blackmail and harassment.”

Dunn informed the board that a survey of her property is being conducted and will be available for town officials to view within a couple weeks.

The board voted to seek legal advice through Maine Municipal Association.

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