Oxford hit with $1 million lawsuit

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ARGUMENTS — Attorney Jeffrey Wilson, standing, argues a point to the Oxford Appeals Board on behalf of his client Ricky Beaudet president of ActNow GC Inc., seated to his right. as Attorney Andrew Helmann and his client Greg Hammon of HBC LLC, front row, and Code Enforcement Office Joelle Corey-Whitman listen at the Oct. 3 administrative appeals hearing.

OXFORD — A local business has filed a lawsuit in Oxford County Superior Court against the town of Oxford and its code enforcement officer, asking that the town re-issue its third and last available medical marijuana permit to Stevenson Enterprises Inc. or pay $1 million in damages.

ActNow GC Inc. President Ricky Beaudet, through his attorney Jeffrey B. Wilson of Braun & Wilson in Paris, filed an initial complaint in Oxford County Superior Court on Friday, Oct. 6.

The plaintiff, who leases property at 517 Main St. from Brent Stevenson, president of Stevenson Enterprises Inc., for his plumbing and heating supply store, has also asked for an emergency injunction to prohibit the town from re-issuing the medical marijuana permit until the legal complaint and all appeals are heard and resolved.

The Planning Board is set to meet Thursday, Nov. 9, and is expected to review the application of HBC LLC, located at 7 Oxford Homes Lane, for the final permit that had been issued earlier this year to Stevenson Enterprises Inc.

Town Manager Butch Asselin said Tuesday, Oct. 10, that it is the town’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.

The legal action follows the Oct. 3 Board of Appeals decision to overturn a previous decision by the Planning Board, which issued the permit to Stevenson Enterprises Inc., who in turn leased the property at 517 Main St. to ActNow CG Inc., who subleased one of three buildings to two individuals who intended to cultivate medical marijuana.

In his complaint, Wilson called the action by the Appeals Board “devastating” to  Stevenson Enterprises Inc., Act Now GC Inc. and their tenants and families.

The Appeals Board voted 3-1 that the Planning Board was incorrect in issuing the third and final marijuana grow permit to Stevenson Enterprises Inc. The Appeals Board believed the Planning Board did not have the authority to issue the permit under the town’s Medical Marijuana Ordinance because the permit did not meet the required 250-foot setback from the nearest private residence.

Appeals Board members Joel Haslett, Jocelyn Bradbury and Chairman John Palmer voted for the action. Member Clyde Holt voted against it.

The Appeals Board also voted unanimously on Oct. 3 to reverse the Planning Board’s Aug. 10 decision to deny the medical marijuana permit application of HBC LLC and sent the application back to the Planning Board for reconsideration.

The request was made following the Planning Board’s August 10 decision on a 3-2 vote to award the final permit to Stevenson Enterprise Inc. The vote was based on the board’s majority belief that the Planning Board had issued the final permit with one contingency to Stevenson Enterprise Inc. at its April 13 board meeting. According to the complaint, that final approval allowed Beaudet to move forward to obtain a tenant  in his building for the medical marijuana operation.

HBC LLC had asked the Planning Board on Aug. 10 to formerly deny its site plan application for the medical marijuana grow permit in order to gain standing for an administrative appeal.

The Planning Board denial of HBC LLC’s site plan review application was based solely on the unavailability of a medical marijuana grow permit.

The ActNow GC Inc. marijuana cultivation building was set to receive its final inspection by Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman on Wednesday, Oct. 4.

Cause and effect

Relying on the Planning Board’s approval, Beaudet then entered into a long-term lease-to-own agreement in May with Stevenson, according to the complaint. The lease was for all three buildings, including the building approved for the medical marijuana cultivation. Beaudet would assume the role of defacto landlord for the building housing the medical marijuana cultivation.

Shortly after, Beaudet was approached by two individuals to rent the approved building for a medical marijuana cultivation business, according to the complaint. The two parties signed a three-year lease in June. The tenant paid $18,000 down payment for rent and for ActNow GC to outfit the interior of the building for the specific use.

According to the complaint, $10,000 in construction supplies were purchased by ActNow GC Inc. for that purpose. Corey-Whitman issued a building permit to ActNow GC on Aug. 21 to begin construction at the site.

During this time, the complaint further states, Corey-Whitman, who had been hired earlier in the year, discovered documents in the previous code enforcement officer’s records that showed the second medical marijuana permit, issued to George Schott, the owner of the former Burlington Homes factory property at 620 Main St., was approved but did not meet the required 250-feet setback from the nearest existing private residence.

Based on that information, Stevenson had applied for the third medical marijuana grow permit knowing his property did not meet the setback requirement either.

Burlington Homes eventually resolved the issue by using only the section of the building that did meet the setback.

Although there was no public objection or appeal to the April 13 decision for ActNow GC Inc., the complaint states that the Planning Board brought the Stevenson Enterprise Inc. application to the table again on Aug. 10 after two members of the Planning Board took the position that the Planning Board’s approval on April 13 was not final.

With the town’s counsel present, Planning Board members spent several hours debating whether they had given ActNow GC final approval at the April 13 meeting.

According to the complaint, town council Mary Costigan advised the Planning Board  that even if the April 13 approval was “a mistake,” as long as no one appealed, “a final decision cannot be subsequently challenged and the applicant was entitled to rely on the final decision.”

Planning Board member Denise Landsberg, who was present at the April 13 meeting, stated at the Aug. 10 meeting that the approval with contingency was not unusual.  “I’m saying a decision was made,” she said, according to the complaint. Two of the three members of the Planning Board who were at the April 13 meeting agreed.

Damages “devastating”

In the ActNow GC Inc.complaint, attorney Wilson said the effect of the reversal of the permit approval is “devastating” to the Stevensons, Act Now GC and their tenants.

Because of the reliance on the Planing Board’s approval, Beaudet has “potentially locked himself into a ten-year lease agreement with Stevenson to own real estate making him liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars,” states the complaint. The sale price for the three buildings was negotiated based on the final approval of the permit.

Additionally, the complaint states, Act Now GC’s tenants are now locked into a three-year lease for an approved use that is now vacated. Both have spent thousands of dollars in construction, according to the complaint, and ActNow GC could potentially lose its monthly rental income, which is used in part to pay his real estate purchase.

Additionally, states the complaint, the tenants made plans to move to Maine and purchased homes in Oxford with every expectation of starting their medical marijuana business.

“This action,” states the complaint, “without exaggeration, will devastate the lives of several families.”

No court date has been assigned as of Tuesday, according to information from the  court clerk’s office.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net