The Sept. 10 planning board meeting concerning upgrades to a deckhouse of a World War II ship was an alternating argument about how the town's Shoreland Zoning Ordinance is interpreted in relation to a renovation permit approved for the Castlewood Lane property.

Three board members, Bill Leppanen, Larry Choate and Dale Martin voted to approve the findings of fact submitted by attorney Paul Gibbons, who represents the permit applicants.

Chairman Robert Pratt recused himself from the vote because last month he took the applicants, Doug and Leah Johnson, of Andover, Mass, sailing. Pratt is a commercial boat captain. At last month's meeting, Pratt said the sailing trip would not have affected his decision, and that they application was not discussed.

Some neighbors of the property, at 5 Castlewood Lane, said the application process was rushed, and expressed dismay that the board had not seen the structure as a group to survey it. Code Enforcement Officer Scott Bickford and the Department of Environmental Protection also have concerns about the legality of the permit in relation to town zoning.

The Johnsons, acting as Osprey Realty Trust, bought the property in 2010 for $80,000. They are asking to renovate the structure at its current location. The structure is assessed at $8,000.

The lot contains the deckhouse of an old World War II ship, and is a grandfathered structure that does not conform to current ordinances because it existed at the site before zoning. The structure sits 44 feet from the shore.

New buildings are to be set back 75 feet from the high-tide water mark, per existing ordinances.

David Jenny, Owls Head resident and attorney for a neighbor of the property, contends the structure is so dilapidated that it cannot be renovated, but rather, the application is seeking the deckhouse to be rebuilt. In that case, the structure would have to be moved back from the shoreline.

In 2010, Johnson sent a letter to the tax assessor seeking an abatement for the property, and stated in the letter that the structure was falling down and would soon be removed.

Board members said the applicants have a right to change their mind of what to do with the building, especially as they had contractors and structural engineers survey the property and tell them it could be fixed.

In a letter to the board submitted last week, Jenny objected to the proposed findings of fact of the property, and asks the board reconsider their decision to grant Osprey Realty Trust a permit to renovate a structure at its current location. Jenny is also a neighbor of the property.

Attorney for the applicants, Paul Gibbons, said repeatedly he wanted to get the meeting back on track during the discussion from neighbors, and that no new information should be taken by the board because they had already voted to approve the permit.

Jenny also requested new planning board member, Ken Wexler, be allowed to participate in the consideration of the request, and further matters concerning the lot if he reviews the minutes of previous meetings. Wexler asked to see the property in August, but the Johnsons said they did not want him voting on the project as he missed months of meetings. Wexler was not present at the September meeting.

Jenny's reasoning for the reconsideration includes the board never made an official site visit to the property, which Jenny said is necessary to clarify the condition of the structure, and further contends the approval violates the town's Shoreland Zoning Ordinance because the structure is so dilapidated.

Jenny said at the meeting it was a joke to call the ship deck a structure. The structure was recently deemed a risk due to its disrepair, and is currently the subject of complaint filed in court.

The complaint was filed in July by the Johnsons after the zoning board of appeals reversed the board's initial decision to allow the Johnson's to move back the structure and build an addition. While the complaint was active, the Johnsons' submitted the new plan, to rebuild.

After the meeting, Gibbons said if the new permit is not appealed, then the court suit will be dropped.

Neighbor Claire Perry said she will appeal the decision. She has 30 days to file it.

Bickford said the planning board has not heeded his recommendations, such as consulting with the Department of Environmental Protection about the lot.

Colin Clark, of the Shoreland Zoning Bureau of the Department of Environmental Protection, said he has reviewed photographs of the property and the building, and in his opinion, more than 50 percent of the value of the structure has deteriorated, which would require the structure to go under a greatest practical extent review in order to determine how far back the building should be moved from the water's edge.

Clark said the structure should not be as close to the ocean as it presently sits in its condition.

He added the structure could be moved back to at least the 75-foot limit, and the wetland area could be built on with a Natural Resources Protection Act permit.

Clark said that from complaints he has received, and what he has seen through photographs, he is certain the ordinance is not being applied correctly. Clark sent an email to the town requesting documents from the application to be sent to him to review.

Choate said Clark's opinion is just that, an opinion.

Jenny asked why the board seemed to be reaching to determine that the applicants' and their builders' opinion has more weight then others.

Gibbons, the Johnsons and board member Dale Martin said in August as the board has already voted to allow the renovation, the board cannot allow new evidence to be admitted. Leah Johnson said as she and her husband have been back and forth from Massachusetts for meetings and the permit has been in limbo for eight months, it is time to resolve the issue.

In testimony given to the board in June and July, Peter Yates, the Johnson's carpenter, and engineer William Gartley told the board the construction is a renovation, and too much of the building will be be preserved to call the work a reconstruction or a rebuilding.

Yates said the second floor is stable, and said renovations will not be significant. Structurally, Gartley said, the renovation will not include rebuilding the structure. Much of the original building will remain, he said, according to June and July meetings that discussed findings of fact.

At the September meeting, Yates said the second floor is not entirely intact and some rebuilding will be necessary, but most of the structure will be preserved. Yates also said that during the past few months, the jacks used to raise the structure have been somehow removed, ether by someone taking them, or by weather.

Jenny said this is a false allegation and said Bickford should be asked to look over the property if the jacks have been moved.

Jenny asserted in July the building would then need to be moved back 75 feet from the high tide mark, as it is being renovated. The board disagreed, and said that is only an issue when there is sudden damage, a structure loses 50 percent of its fair market value, and then the owner would need to acquire a permit within one year to rebuild.

The board said the damage to the structure is from lack of maintenance from a long period of time, not, for example, a hurricane, and so the owner would not necessarily know when to get the appropriate permit within a year's time.

Bickford said the Johnsons are planning to build a foundation under the building, and if so, it must be moved back 75 feet from tide mark. He said the language is very clear in the ordinance, and said the board is not reading it correctly in allowing the work, if including a foundation, to be completed where the structure stands now.

Gibbons said although his clients asked for a foundation in the permit application, they may not build one as the area is rocky.

Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@villagesoup.com.