The town of Harrison goes to court over land division

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HARRISON—A former selectman is heading to Bridgton District Court next week for a pretrial conference after the town of Harrison alleged he created an illegal subdivision by selling too many parcels of land during a five-year time frame—and could go to court with the town of Waterford for the same issue.

The land in question is between 12 and 14 acres on Chase Gate Road in Harrison, owned by Ed Rolfe Jr., according to Harrison Code Enforcement Officer John Wentworth. Complicating the issue is the parcels of land straddle not only town lines between Harrison and Waterford, but also county lines between Cumberland and Oxford. Wentworth only deals with the parcels in Harrison.

At the Harrison Town Office recently, Wentworth said that Rolfe not only violated the town’s Subdivision Ordinance by not getting Planning Board approval prior to dividing up the land into three parcels and selling them off in less than five years—he violated state law. At a court appearance in Bridgton District Court on Nov. 4, Rolfe denied the allegations.

“I am going to win this case,” Rolfe said by phone Monday, adding he’s 99.9 percent sure the judge will rule in his favor. “I have two different deeds at two different dates. … It is so ridiculous when you’re abutting land in two different towns and two different counties and nobody ever said nothing. … There’s a lot more to this than meeting the eye and Eddie Rolfe doesn’t want to do nothing legal.”

According to Maine statute, a subdivision is defined as the division of three or more tracts or parcels of land, which is part of the same piece of land, within a five-year period. This division can come in the form of sale, lease, development, buildings or other means. According to the state statute and Harrison’s Subdivision Ordinance, Planning Board approval is required before creating a subdivision.

According to court documents, the alleged violations occurred in January 2007, August 2007, June 2008 and March 2013, when he sold parcels to four different parties in Cumberland and Oxford counties. Wentworth explained if one of the sales in Cumberland County was to one of Rolfe’s children or if he had kept one of the parcels, it wouldn’t be considered a subdivision.

Brian Willing, of the Portland-based Drummond Woodsum, is representing the town of Harrison. To date, the town has spent roughly $2,900 in legal fees on the issue, Harrison Town Manager George “Bud” Finch said by email, and he expects to pay more as the case moves forward. Rolfe is representing himself in court.

Waterford Code Enforcement Officer Bill Haynes referred all comments to the town’s attorney, David Kallin, also of Drummond Woodsum. Kallin said by phone Tuesday that even though his and Willing’s cases are separate, they’re intertwined.

Kallin said Rolfe’s land is “contiguous to several other tracts or parcels that are also illegal subdivisions that were either owned by Mr. Rolfe, his sons or entities controlled by Mr. Rolfe … a little bit extends into Harrison and much of which is in Waterford.”

He estimates the Waterford land is between 175 and 200 acres. Waterford Selectmen Chairman Randy Lessard said by phone Tuesday that there’s seven illegal lots in town from Rolfe. Kallin added that Waterford holds the same contention as Harrison that Rolfe sold too many parcels in less than five years without getting prior Planning Board approval.

“Both towns are pushing Mr. Rolfe to come in for an after-the-fact Planning Board approval,” Kallin said, noting the regulations that need to be addressed, including adequate access to each of the lots, water supply and no wetlands issues, shouldn’t prevent the approval. “I think Harrison made an effort and Waterford has certainly been bending over backwards to get this resolved without having to go to court.”

He added that Rolfe asked for more time to deal with the Waterford issue and suggested he might be willing to come before the Waterford Planning Board. If the town doesn’t hear from Rolfe by the middle of this month, Kallin said Waterford will most likely go the court route as well. To date, Waterford has spent roughly $5,500 on lawyer fees and an additional $5,500 in deed research before getting lawyers on board, Lessard said.

“It’s been quite extensive and the problem we have is we have to do it when building permits come up,” he said. “We have to answer which ones are illegal and which are legal.”

Kallin said Rolfe’s actions doesn’t only affect the former landowner and the towns.

“He sold all of these lots and it puts these land owners in a difficult position. The lots are part of an illegal subdivision. They can’t get a building permit and can’t sell [the land],” he said.

Such is the case for James and Deborah Dyckman, of Pembroke, Mass., who purchased the last parcel of land from Rolfe in March 2013. Wentworth said he denied their building permit application to build a house and most recently denied their application for electricity on the site in November. Before he can approve such a permit, he has to make sure there’s no conflicts with subdivision or shoreland zoning laws, which there’s an unresolved issue subdivision issue with the site.

Rolfe and Harrison town officials will appear in at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14, in Bridgton District Court, at 3 Chase St.

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