York Town Manager Steve Burns points to an area on an old map showing a discrepancy in where the towns of York and Kittery come together. Credit: Deb Cram | Seacoast Online

YORK, or maybe KITTERY, Maine — What’s in a (town’s) name? Potentially quite a bit, as selectmen begin to unravel an elusive boundary line between the towns of York and Kittery that has been a gray area since the 17th century.

Selectman Mike Estes said he’d like to see the board engage the Kittery Town Council in discussions this fall, as they look into what exactly is the border from Brave Boat Harbor to Eliot between the two towns.

The issue arose after York developer Duane Jellison bought property on Route 1 across the street from Burrito Betty’s including a yellow farmhouse and acreage behind it. His company DLJ Corporation intends to develop the parcel, probably as a residential subdivision.

“We thought the land was half in York and half in Kittery. Basically, we had the survey work done and we have a stamped plan indicating where the boundary is, which is not where you think it is. The real line is now three-quarters in York, one quarter in Kittery,” Jellison said. “We have a stamped plan that it is where it is and we’re moving forward based on that.”

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The boundary line with Kittery has been a concern to one town or the other since the late 17th century, said Town Manager Steve Burns. Burns has copies of a 1794 map of both towns, created when the state of Massachusetts, which then included Maine, required them. York’s map clearly shows two separate lines with the Kittery border, while Kittery’s map has a dotted, not a solid, line.

“But there’s a version that goes back 100 years before that, to the time of the Candlemas raid” of York in 1692, said Burns. That earlier version is referenced on the 1794 maps.

For Burns, “it’s just one of those old mysteries that’s kind of neat until it’s a pain. History comes alive in 2018. If the boundary isn’t being shown in the right place on the face of the earth, that interests me. How does that happen?”

This is hardly the first time York and its neighbors have had to deal with ancient boundary lines. York has gone through a process with both Eliot and Ogunquit in the past, said Estes. He wants to see this old boundary determined for very 21st century reasons — it may be that York is missing out on property taxes. Certainly, he said, that appears to be the case with Jellison’s property.

“Now that a surveyor has gone out and we have a defined survey based on history, it’s up to us to meet with Kittery and see if we can resolve it,” he said. “And it’s not just that property. This is from Brave Boat Harbor to the Eliot line.”

According to Estes, if any two municipalities in Maine are unable to reach agreement on the boundary, it would be up to the Legislature to act to set the boundary.

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Town Tax Assessor Rick Mace said a number of properties along the border are partially in Kittery and partially in York, with property owners paying taxes to both towns. But he said in his long tenure at Town Hall, he doesn’t remember dealing with any disputes.

Estes has asked for the matter to be placed on an upcoming selectmen’s agenda for discussion. He said he’d like to see selectmen and the Kittery Town Council meet this fall to see if they can begin to unravel this mystery.

Kittery Town Manager Kendra Amaral said this week she was aware that issues with the Kittery/York boundary have “been going on for years, but I am not versed in the specifics. As far as Kittery goes, nothing has come our way from York, and until such time as that happens, it’s not on our agenda.”

Council chair Ken Lemont said until last week, he didn’t know there had been an historical issue with the boundary, although “I knew going back there were two different versions of the line. It’s been this way for many years. The ball is in York’s court. If they want to talk about it, I’m willing to talk about anything.”

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