Camden land use violation settlement approvedAgreement is second between town and Libby family
Camden — Camden selectmen approved a settlement agreement with the Libby family regarding a land use violation issue involving several properties subdivided by C. Edward and Sylvia Libby despite their son Ed “Eddie” Libby's objection to the $2,000 civil penalty.
The Libby property on Start Road was subdivided among family members several years ago and the town intervened when an abutter notified of possible subdivision without permit, Town Attorney William Kelly said Jan. 8. Upon investigation, four parcels were recombined into one, he said, which was “satisfactory on an administrative level but complicated because its transfer to family members.” Kelly said gifts of property to family members are allowable provided the gifts are not intended to circumvent the planning board process. The town and Libby family entered into a settlement agreement about the recombined properties and remaining family properties at that time.
Kelly said a new issue was presented when one of the subdivided properties was listed for sale before the mandatory five-year family ownership had expired. He said the town sent the Libby family a letter Oct. 18, 2012, explaining the violation of the previous agreement. The family attorney, Paul Gibbons, requested a new formal agreement with the town in order to resolve some potential title issues, Kelly said.
“The focus of this [settlement agreement] is to clean up title issues,” he said, adding the town is satisfied there is no need for prosecution.
Kelly said the new agreement outlines each transfer of the property, notes future prosecution by the town is waived and states no building permit will be denied due to title problems. Attorney fees of $1,000 and a civil penalty for violating the prior subdivision agreement of $2,000 also are included in the settlement, he said, to be paid by the Libby family within 30 days.
Eddie Libby spoke on behalf of his parents and family. He said the family feels the $2,000 fee is out of line based on a previous $500 estimate.
“[The issue] is a long, winding road,” Libby said.
He disputed some dates included in the new settlement, to which Kelly responded by stating he used the filing date.
“I understand your point the deal was executed before that date,” Kelly said.
Libby said he is a real estate agent and listed the property with the caveat it could not be transferred to a new owner until after the five-year window outlined in the previous settlement. He said he contacted Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson in March 2012 to make him aware several family-owned properties would soon be placed on the market for sale and said Wilson did not indicate it was too early at that time.
“[The previous settlement] didn't say you can't put a sign on it,” Libby said, adding he officially listed lots for sale Aug. 14 and listed it in the Multiple Listing Service with the note lots could not be transferred until the end of October.
Then, in August, Libby said the family received a letter from Kelly indicating the properties should not be listed for sale. Libby said he tried to communicate with town staff and Kelly but did not receive a response — an allegation Kelly clarified later in the meeting as not avoidance but a legal issue requiring him to speak to the family attorney rather than family members.
On Sept. 10, the Libby family entered into a sale and purchase agreement with a closing date after the designated five years, Libby said. The buyer wished to purchase several lots and recombine them into one larger one, he said. Within a few days, Libby said Kelly contacted the family with an estimated civil penalty of $500, which later was revised to $2,000 due to “unacceptable behavior.” Libby said the previous settlement with the town did not forbid marketing of any parcels and the Libby family wished to appeal the civil penalty.
“We're not scofflaws, we're not out there to break rules,” Libby said.
Selectman John French requested Kelly weigh in following Libby's words.
“I don't think it's an accurate story,” Kelly said. “Frankly, the offer of settlement was, I would call it, certainly not overzealous in terms of prosecution.”
French stated he believes the family intentionally misled the town.
“Clearly this was done to make an end run around us,” he said.
Select Board Chairman Martin Cates took issue with an implication Libby made about him and Selectman James Heard, both of whom are real estate brokers.
“The insinuation Jim and I should have a better understanding [of Libby's position], I find offensive,” Cates said. “It should have been more thoroughly researched.”
He continued, and said the first settlement was amicable, however, “the second time we're talking about this is inexcusable.”
Selectman Leonard Lookner said to prevent a similar occurrence, the town planning board should reconsider right-of-way guidelines as they apply to subdivisions. With little additional discussion, selectmen approved the settlement agreement unanimously as drafted.
Camden Herald Associate Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.