June 05, 2020

Nature center vs. town dismissed

ROCKLAND – A Knox County Superior Court justice has dismissed the Cushing Nature and Preservation Center’s case against the town of Cushing.

The center had sought a property tax exemption for 1998 and 1999.

Justice John Atwood dismissed the case because of the plaintiff’s failure to respond to a court order advising the court of plaintiff’s new counsel. On Jan. 31, the court approved a motion to withdraw as counsel from Portland attorneys William Dale and Sally Daggett, who had been representing the center.

Last week, Atwood dismissed the case because the center did not inform the court as to whether it had new counsel or was planning to represent itself, a court clerk said.

On Monday, Niles Albright, director of the center, did not respond to questions about why it allowed the case to be dismissed.

Albright did say, however, that the nonprofit organization might have to consider some commercial development of the 400 acres, which has 2.5 miles of shorefront and 6 miles of nature trails. The property has both deep-water and tidal frontage.

According to a court document, the property is valued at approximately $2.5 million.

In April 2001, Atwood ruled that the town could keep the $37,226 the center paid in taxes for the two years that were contested. In turn, the center appealed that decision to Maine’s highest court, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

In October the supreme court sent the case back to the lower court for trial because some of the facts surrounding the case were in dispute.

According to Albright, the case was to proceed to determine the amount of time the center is used for educational purposes.

The supreme court concluded that “the trial court must determine whether the claimed charitable use is the sole use of the land, whether the charitable uses are conducted in good faith and whether there exists a pretense to evade taxation.”

As a result of the dismissal, the center forfeits the tax money for 1998 and 1999, Portland attorney Daniel Mitchell, who represents the town, said Monday.

“It’s over now,” Mitchell said.

Albright indicated that there has been a lack of interest by the town in the center’s educational activities and that other area towns have expressed interest in his organization’s buying land for similar preservation.

In trying to promote and protect the distinctive coastal environment in Cushing, the center will consider working with land trusts or it may have to consider some commercial development, Albright said.

Under its ownership, the center has allowed such activities as scouting, science camps and walks on the property, according to court records.

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