After eight months of back-and-forth arguing the legality of a renovation permit application to preserve a waterfront structure, the attorney for the applicants withdrew the application before the zoning board of appeals Jan. 8.

The owners of the shorefront lot, Doug and Leah Johnson of Andover, Mass., acting as Osprey Realty Trust, filed a complaint in Knox County Superior Court in July, seeking to overturn the zoning board of appeals' decision to nix the permit to allow the building to be set back 15 feet from its original location. The appeals board concluded the structure could be moved farther back on the property.

While the complaint was still active, the Johnsons received approval in September from the planning board in a separate application to renovate the structure. The renovation application is now moot.

The building is a deck house of an old World War II ship, and is a grandfathered structure which 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.

The Johnsons bought the property in 2010 for $80,000.

In the first permit granted to the Johnsons in March, which is pending in court, they were given permission by the planning board to move the dilapidated structure back from the shore, when they then planned to build an addition. The zoning board of appeals reversed the decision, and the case ended up in Knox County Superior Court for resolution.

In the original application, the Johnsons contended 15 feet was the farthest the structure could be moved, so as not to impact a wetland zone behind the building. The planning board agreed, and decided 15 feet was the greatest practical extent the structure could be moved without affecting either the shoreland or the wetland. The Johnsons had requested approval to build a 945-square-foot addition once the structure was moved back.

The zoning board of appeals said the planning board was not following the ordinance correctly and that the structure could be moved farther back from the shore as the Department of Environmental Protection concluded the wetland area, was in fact not a wetland.

The Johnsons and their attorney, Paul Gibbons, will now focus on this original permit. The defendants are listed as the town of Owls Head, Jill Delaney and Claire Perry.

Gibbons said he wanted to withdraw the second permit application, because of the amount of time it would take to settle the second matter. He said he and his clients will now focus on the application that is pending in court. "I really do appreciate everybody's time," he said of the process.

Earlier Gibbons said if the second permit, to renovate the structure, had not been appealed by the neighbors, the original case would have been dismissed.

In regard to the second application permit, that was approved by the planning board, but now moot because it has been withdrawn, the point of contention was whether the application was in line with the shoreland zone ordinance.

Colin Clark of the Shoreland Zoning Bureau of the Department of Environmental Protection said by phone in August he had reviewed photographs of the property and the building, and in his opinion, more than 50 percent of the value of the structure had 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 current 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.

"The purpose of shoreland zoning is to eliminate non-conformance," Code Enforcement Officer Scott Bickford said. The state recognizes non-conforming properties have rights, to be painted, polished and expanded within certain limits. Bickford said, he personally did not believe the second application for the Castlewood Lane property was within those limits.

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

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

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

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

Jenny said the building was too dilapidated to be repaired.

The board said the damage to the structure was from lack of maintenance over 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.

The matter will now continue in court.

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