Friday, September 30, 2005
Town sues Chateauneufs over easement violations
Two years of off-again-on-again negotiations have failed to resolve a dispute over violations of two conservation easements in the Tall Pines subdivision. As a result, a civil lawsuit has been filed by the Town of Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) against Hutchins Road residents Dennis and Linda Chateauneuf for failure to comply with Commission orders to remove illegal structures.
The violations which involve a basketball court and an irrigation well were first reported to ConsCom by the Conservation Restriction Advisory Committee (CRAC) in July of 2003. The location was considered especially important because the restrictive easements had been obtained from the original developer after a hard-fought campaign waged by town officials and groups of citizens concerned to protect the Carlisle Pines and sensitive wildlife habitat.
History of the disagreement
At their first appearance before ConsCom, Chateauneuf admitted guilt, said he deeply regretted the mistake and stressed that it was inadvertent. Conceding that ignorance was no defense, he appealed for a compromise that would permit the family to keep the sports area or at least postpone its removal until his children were older.
While expressing genuine sympathy for the couple's predicament, commissioners explained that, were the Commission to allow him to continue to infringe on the easements, landowners in the neighborhood and in other parts of town would expect the same treatment and soon conservation restrictions would be meaningless. Therefore Chateauneuf would have to remove the offending structures and allow the disturbed areas to naturalize.
Declaring himself "saddened" by the apparent lack of compromise and knowing the removal would be both costly and emotionally upsetting to his children, Chateauneuf mentioned that he "might seek legal counsel." He was told that was clearly within his right but would only add to the final cost. Meanwhile he was given time to explore the best means of compliance and asked to report back in the spring.
Eight months later the Chateauneufs were asked to come in to report on progress to date. This time Mrs. Chateauneuf was the spokesperson, indicating that the project had gone to bid for removal of the basketball court, and they were awaiting one final bid before awarding the contract. In the interim the Board of Health had questioned the potability of the water from the illegal well but would still allow it to be used for irrigation. They were therefore hopeful they might be able to keep it to supplement their rather meager potable supply.
Because the homeowners were faced with a water shortage, ConsCom members were divided on the matter of dismantling the well. Some felt that since it was there, they might as well let it stay. Others noted that water problems had arisen on other lots abutting the subdivision easements, and the Commission would set a dangerous precedent if they overlooked the Chateauneuf violation. A straw vote showed a majority willing to consider retention of the well, but a formal decision was postponed to allow CRAC members to express their opinion. This they did later in a unanimous vote that indicated they felt there was no alternative to enforcing the restriction. With this opinion factored in, Chateauneuf was asked to appear again on October 8, 2004 to report on the status of the basketball court and plans for the well.
The landowner attended, but this time accompanied by his attorney Lou Levine. The message was that the Chateauneufs were willing to remove the sports court but wanted to wait until their daughter graduated from high school in about three years. Levine added that he was convinced the well was not in violation of the easement, and therefore it would not be removed. Levine's next pronouncement, questioning the validity of both easements, was tossed back and forth among himself, the sitting ConsCom Chair, Roy Watson and representatives of CRAC. In the end Chateauneuf spoke up, repeating his offer to take out the offending court in three years but insisting on retaining the well and warning the Commission" to consider and not end up in a legal tangle."
ConsCom declares Chateauneufs in violation of easements 1 and 2
Shortly thereafter the Chateauneuf party exited, and the Commission passed the following resolution by a unanimous vote: "The Commission finds that the well located at 219 Hutchins Road is in violation of Tall Pines Easement 2, and that the sports court at the same location is in violation of both Easements 1 and 2." Since the probability of litigation was clear, the Commission planned to schedule executive sessions to discuss the matter with CRAC and the Selectmen.
The Commission later decided to delay an enforcement suit at that time, because legislation was pending in the state legislature to make violators responsible for court costs in enforcement cases. But when the bill became bottled up in committee, the Board of Selectmen authorized the Commission to initiate court action by Town Counsel to enforce the Town's laws.
Commenting on the decision last weekend, Watson told the Mosquito, "Because most of the people who come before us come to understand and comply, we tried to work with the Chateauneufs for over two years. However, their stalling, intransigence, and threats of legal recourse left us with no other choice. We thank the Selectmen for their recognition of the importance of defending Town laws and for their courage in the face of tight budgetary times to authorize us to do whatever it takes to make the Chateauneufs comply."
Offered an opportunity to comment on the pending suit, Dennis Chateauneuf politely declined to do so now that the matter has entered the legal process.
© 2005 The