The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 25, 2006

News

Chateauneuf conservation restriction upheld

Three years of legal jockeying that has occupied the Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom), Dennis and Linda Chateauneuf and finally the Town of Carlisle may be at an end. At their August 10 meeting, the commissioners voted to notify the Board of Selectmen that the Tall Pines homeowners have satisfied the concerns of the Conservation Restriction Advisory Committee (CRAC) and a ConsCom enforcement order, by removing an illegal sports court, decommissioning an unpermitted well and returning the restricted areas to their natural state.

The selectmen had authorized a civil suit against the Chateauneufs in September of 2005 after two years of increasingly confrontational negotiations between ConsCom and the homeowners had failed to resolve the dispute over enforcement of two conservation easements that encumbered their property. The violations, which involved construction of a basketball court and an irrigation well in the legally protected area, were originally discovered by CRAC, which facilitates and monitors conservation restrictions. Both CRAC and ConsCom considered these easements to be particularly important, because they had been obtained from the original developer after many months of hard bargaining by town officials and citizen groups determined to protect the Carlisle Pines and what would remain of a highly sensitive wildlife habitat.

Although sympathetic with the Chateauneufs' reluctance to incur admittedly high costs plus emotional trauma to their children, the commissioners made it clear that the illegal structures would have to be removed. They also explained that, although they believed the violations to be inadvertent, they could not allow them to stand without giving the message to other landowners having property subject to a conservation restriction that they could safely ignore the law.

When the couple subsequently refused to recognize the validity of the enforcement order, the town filed a civil suit in Middlesex Superior Court, and the Chateauneufs replied with an answering filing. However, prior to the town's initial presentation in court, the homeowners finally agreed to comply.

At ConsCom's August 10 meeting CRAC Chairman David Kelch and Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard reported that the offending sports court had been removed, the well decommissioned according to state standards and the area appropriately "naturalized." Satisfied with the report and accompanying photographs, the commission asked Willard to so inform the selectmen and recommend that they proceed to dismiss the suit with regard to the violation.

The commission's letter dated August 11 thanked the selectmen for their "unwavering support" and the expectation that the favorable result will reassure potential donors of conservation restrictions that the town will uphold its obligations to them. As requested by ConsCom members, the letter points out that legal costs to the town have exceeded $12,000. Under legislation passed this summer by the state legislature, future violators will be required to pay all enforcement costs, including legal fees, when such infringements are challenged successfully in court. Although this is an ex post facto situation, the commission "encourages" the BOS to attempt to recover some portion of the taxpayers' costs as part of the settlement.


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