More than 50 residents attended a special town meeting March 4 to approve zone changes to allow the Maine Lighthouse Foundation to set up offices and a shop at the Owls Head Light keeper's house.

Residents also approved taking money from surplus to pay for legal fees in a land dispute, as well as approving three other articles.

Included were two amendments to the local zoning and shoreland zoning ordinances that would allow an agreement between the U.S. Coast Guard and the American Lighthouse Foundation to go forward with its plans to use the Owls Head lighthouse and keeper's house as a museum and education center.

The Foundation has to get approval from the state and from the Owls Head Planning Board before the transaction is final.

Foundation Executive Director Robert Trapani said the planning board will meet March 13 to act on the agreement, and Code Enforcement Officer Scott Bickford said he has sent the necessary papers to the state for approval.

The zone changes were necessary owing to a proposed change in land use near the shoreland.

Trapani said that if all goes well, his group plans to move from its offices in Rockland by April. The Owls Head Light will become the national headquarters for the American Lighthouse Foundation, Trapani said.

Voters at the beginning of the meeting elected attorney Bill Dale as moderator and John Hufnagel as deputy moderator. Dale is the attorney who represents the town in litigation and would be paid in a lawsuit in Knox County Superior Court in Rockland. Hufnagel presided over the meeting to avoid a conflict.

The vote gives selectmen permission to take $15,000 from its surplus account to pay for additional legal fees and costs to defend the town's position in litigation over the status of Coopers Beach Road.

In 2011, Darlene Edwards and Lewis Edwards III of Sauguries, N.Y., sued Owls Head and their neighbors to overturn the town's easement on a road that leads to the beach. Selectmen at the time recommended raising $50,000 for legal costs to take a stand against the consequences of similar lawsuits.

Dale said March 4 an additional $15,000 is necessary because it appeared the strategy of the opposition is to wear out the town.

Dale said the town wants a jury trial, while the Edwards' are opposed to a jury trial.

"We have a good case," Dale said.

There is also another suit brought against 13 neighbors by Beverly and David Gravison of Sutton, Mass., and Osprey Lane, a private road off Coopers Beach Road, Dale said. The Gravison suit is opposed to residents walking on their property or shorefront. The Gravisons are not suing the town, Dale said.

Residents at the meeting asked about the possibility of an appeal should the town lose. If the case were decided in favor of the plaintiffs, he said, then the town could appeal at a cost of $10,000 and another year of litigation.

Dale said the Edwards' contend that the town did not accept metes and bounds in 1986 when the road was accepted and therefore did not do the job right.

In other business, voters accepted Freedom Drive as a town way for highway purposes. Residents of the road had petitioned selectmen in 2011. The road has eight residences.

Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, or at gchappell@courierpubklicationsllc.com.