Warren voters to decide on old brick school settlementSpecial town meeting Nov. 7
Warren — Residents heard an explanation Oct. 24 of a conditional out-of-court settlement agreement they will be asked to vote on at a special town meeting Thursday, Nov. 7.
More than 40 residents attended an informational meeting at Warren Community School, and some asked questions to help them make an informed decision on the pending matter. The meeting lasted about two hours.
"I was impressed with the quality of questioning from the public," said Glenn Aho, interim town manager, in an email Oct. 28. The idea of the informational meeting came from residents, according to Aho.
Warren has entered into a conditional settlement agreement with parties involved in a dispute over the sale of the brick school at 44 School St., according to a document posted Oct. 1 on the town website.
The proposed resolution of the dispute involves an auction of the property and division of proceeds of the sale as follows: 15 percent buyer's premium to the auction company; costs of advertising reimbursed to the town; remaining 60 percent to the plaintiff — Vixen Land Holdings LLC — and 40 percent to the town.
Town Attorney William Kelly explained how the Board of Selectmen and the town got to this point, and answered intricate questions from attendees.
"The plaintiff has the right to be the successful bidder, is that correct?" asked resident Donald Berrie.
"Yes," answered Kelly.
Plaintiff Robert Emery — on behalf of Vixen Land Holdings — could be the highest bidder, be awarded the property, pay the town 40 percent of the purchase price and take possession of 44 School St.
"Whoever purchases the building would have to comply with the town's land use codes as it presently exists," said Aho.
If approved at the town meeting, the property would be auctioned until somebody buys it, according to Kelly. "The bids are not sealed. Everyone bids openly," said Kelly.
The settlement agreement fully and finally resolves the dispute, and states that "no party admits any wrongdoing, and the settlement agreement serves to eliminate unnecessary legal expense and control settlement in a way that the select board and plaintiff find reasonable."
The settlement agreement was signed by Robert Emery and Aho on Sept. 25. The select board voted unanimously in favor of signing the settlement agreement.
The agreement states "the property shall be sold at auction, without reserve bid and as an absolute sale, to the highest bidder. The property shall be sold as is, where is, without any form of warranty, representation, disclosure or other averment or statement as to the quality, condition, and merchantability or insurability of title."
"This proposal is not just about selling the building," said Aho. "It's more about settling an alleged breach of contract claim that has greater implications, risks, and potential liability for the town than what the building will eventually sell for," he explained.
"He [Emery] is signing off as well," said Kelly.
If the voters fail to approve the settlement agreement at the special town meeting, the agreement becomes null and void, and might return to litigation.
"Emery and Vixen are seeking damages of between $600,000 and $1.8 million," Kelly said. The damages are based on future estimated rental income from the property after improvements, or the future sale price the school would bring after being rehabilitated, according to a press release from the town Oct. 25.
If voters reject the proposed agreement and proceed to court and lose, a judge would decide the amount of damages, according to the release.
"I don't know how the community will vote, but from those who attended the meeting I think they will cast a well-informed vote," said Aho.
In fall 2010, Robert Emery — through his company Vixen Land Holdings LLC — had a purchase and sale agreement to buy the brick school from the town and planned to serve as landlord to CRC Health Group Inc. there.
In May 2011, the town told Emery the contract was null and void due to breach of contract. The town said Emery failed to secure a written commitment from a lender for the project, as stipulated in the sale agreement. However, Kelly explained that the plaintiffs had indeed provided written notice to the town that they would be buying the property in cash.
In February, a United States District court judge threw out two federal claims and one state claim of Emery's who alleged he was protected under a federal act and was discriminated against by the town of Warren.
The special town meeting will be held Thursday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m. at Warren Community School.
Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
594-4401 ext. 125
Beth rejoined Courier Publications' news staff in February 2013. She previously worked at The Courier-Gazette from 1981 to 1990.
Her coverage area includes Warren, Union, Friendship, Waldoboro, Washington, and Thomaston and RSU40.
Beth has a passion for photography, and a degree from the University of Maine at Augusta, in affiliation with the Maine Photographic Workshop in Rockport.
Aside from photography, Beth enjoys running and walks along the waterfront, as well as other outdoor activities. She has a daughter, Claire, who is 13.
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