MDOT: working with Wiscasset to ‘temporarily defer’ Haggett building’s tear-down

Posted:  Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 12:45pm

A lawsuit Wiscasset filed against the Maine Department of Transportation in hopes of a temporary restraining order to prevent the demolition of the Haggett building on Water Street has been moved from Lincoln County Superior Court to the Business and Consumer Court in Portland.

In another development, the state and town have reached an agreement toward putting off the building’s demolition, according to court records from Nov. 30. MDOT has agreed not to take down the Haggett building before a Feb. 2 hearing. Other stipulations included the town’s agreement to provide all memoranda before Dec. 14, and the state responding with its own memoranda – about why a preliminary injunction should not be granted – no later than Jan. 11.

In the meantime, MDOT will not demolish the building, nor proceed with construction, although it may continue planning for both the Route 1 project and the Haggett demolition. The state may also secure the property by posting signs and take other measures to deter trespassers, but may not erect a fence around the building.

The town’s suit, filed Nov. 29, marks the first time the town has filed a motion to restrain MDOT from certain aspects of its downtown improvement project to improve safety and traffic flow. All other court action against MDOT on it have been filed by private property owners. The courts have ruled numerous times, those property owners do not have legal standing to sue MDOT. The Doering family is pursuing an appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, the last option for the suit.

Among the rationales for the restraining order, according to the filing, is that the town would suffer immediate and irreparable injury if MDOT demolishes the Haggett building, and that MDOT did not go through Wiscasset’s Historic Preservation Ordinance to obtain a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition.

The Haggett building was the first showroom for Ford motor vehicles on the Maine coast, according to the town’s motion. MDOT plans to demolish the building to make a parking lot. MDOT has said the building had been so altered over its history, it was not a conforming historic structure by National Register standards. The project largely removes Main Street parking.

The town is also seeking a declaratory judgment and a permanent injunction against MDOT to prevent it from making the changes to downtown parking. Residents approved  “Option 2” in June 2016, including those plans. Since then, MDOT decided, in the interest of time, to not pursue federal funds, and it bought the Haggett building via eminent domain.

The town claims neither decision was part of the original plan, and that last June, voters approved a decision to force MDOT to live up to its original plans under Option 2. The request for declaratory judgment alleges MDOT violates local ordinances, specifically the Historic Preservation Ordinance, and state statute under 23 M.R.S. 651, which requires MDOT to “take into consideration the interests of a municipality as to the location of any state or state aid highway construction or alteration within the boundaries of the municipality.”

The parties agreed to have the case moved to the Business and Consumer Court, where most of the litigation regarding this project has taken place. It was sent to the court Nov. 30.

Shortly after the motions were filed, Town Manager Marian Anderson released the following statement:

“In the face of growing concern about the downtown viability without on street parking and the uncertainty of MDOT’s  willingness to honor the Town’s ordinance  process the Town of Wiscasset filed a complaint today in Lincoln County Superior Court. The Town  looks forward to seeing the process through and is hopeful that MDOT will  comply with the Town’s requests.  We look forward to continuing to work positively with MDOT to resolve the issues.”

Reached afterward, Anderson said she could not comment further on the pending litigation.

Ted Talbot, spokesman for MDOT, said in an email response to questions from the Wiscasset Newspaper Nov. 30: “The Maine Department of Transportation was disappointed to learn that the Town of Wiscasset has sued the Department over certain aspects of the U.S. Route 1 improvement project, despite overwhelming public support for the project design concept in a referendum vote just last year.

“The Department recently met with town representatives and was continuing to work in good faith to address public concerns about certain project features when it was told of the lawsuit. As part of the lawsuit, the Town is seeking a court order to stop demolition of the former Haggett’s garage building owned by the Department, which is now unoccupied.  Through counsel, the Town and the Department are working on an agreement to temporarily defer the demolition of this structure.

“In the meantime, the Department continues to plan and design this important regional transportation project. Because the matter is now in litigation, the Department cannot comment further at this time.”