April 07, 2020

Old Town puts hold on sale of city-owned property

OLD TOWN – The City Council Monday night put on hold the sale of a Bennoch Road property until after the first of the year. After three failed motions and much discussion, the council voted 4-3 to table the sale of a 71-foot-by-51-foot parcel that was deeded to the city for a school more than 150 years ago.

Conditions of the motion included getting the land surveyed at city expense and bringing the issue back to the council on Jan. 8. The council also asked City Attorney Robert Miller to explore further the implications of a state statute that he told the council applied to schoolhouse lots in the 1960s and ’70s, but was repealed in the 1980s.

The council voted in October to allow two abutting property owners to submit sealed bids on the land. The original motion on Monday night’s agenda was to accept a bid of $3,510 made by Walter and Sharon St. John. That motion was rejected by a vote of 2-5.

Robert and Karen Liimakka submitted what their attorney, Brett Baber, called “an eBay style bid” on the parcel. The city attorney said that bid was unacceptable because it did not meet the bid specifications, which prohibited conditions.

The Liimakkas submitted a minimum bid of $2,000 plus $250 more than the St. Johns’ bid, up to $5,012, said Miller. The Liimakkas also sent the city a bid deposit of $512.

“The form of the Liimakkas’ bid, in my opinion, was improper,” the city attorney said Monday night. “It did not conform with the specs of the bid.”

Councilor Michael Wickett asked that the property be surveyed “because I am not comfortable selling a piece of property not knowing its exact location. … If we are selling a piece of property, we should know its boundaries. The money we will be getting for this land would not cover the city’s legal fees if we were hauled into court.”

While the parcel is described in the original 1849 deed, its boundaries have never been outlined by a licensed surveyor.

The parcel was cut out of a piece of property known in the community as the Littlefield farm, which is now owned by the Liimakkas. Robert Liimakka told the council in October that he and “all the previous owners” had believed they owned the entire two-acre parcel, despite the fact that the deed clearly sets aside the schoolhouse lot.

Over the years, several owners, including the Liimakkas, paid property taxes on the small parcel. In October the city agreed to abate tax payments on the property for the past three years. City Manager Paul Mazzaccaro estimated the overpaid taxes totaled $30 per year.

Walter St. John objected Monday night to a delay in the acceptance of bids. He said that both parties had spoken to the council at two previous meetings and had “in good faith decided to submit bids.” He said the proper time to survey the land would have been prior to the bid procedure.

St. John said in October that he and his wife have maintained the property despite the fact that they do not own it. He said the lot is at the end of the couple’s long steep driveway and that he hoped to park a car on the property for easier access to Bennoch Road.

In other business, Jeffrey Plourde and Alan Reynolds were sworn in as councilors and Victoria Dupuis and David Wollstadt took the oath to serve on the school board. The four were elected to office on Nov. 7. Council members elected Scott Cates to serve as chairman for the next year.

A public hearing to consider locations for a skate park will be held at 6 p.m. today in the library at the Leonard Middle School. A public hearing on the proposed public safety building will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday in the middle school library.

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