YORK, Maine — The border between Kittery and York will be back before the York Board of Selectmen Monday night. At least two selectmen say they think it’s a good idea to figure the boundary out once and for all, but the chairwoman of the Kittery Town Council said she hopes the issue fades away.
Meanwhile, the owners of land on Route 1 who precipitated the issue, appear to be starting the legal groundwork to push the matter forward. Seacoast Properties LLC, which purchased land at the town line it claims is in York, sought a building permit last month from York Code Enforcement Officer Amber Harrison, who said she didn’t have the authority to issue a permit on Kittery land.
That prompted an appeal before the York Board of Appeals, which last week determined it had no jurisdiction to hear the appeal.
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At issue is a swath of land along the border of about 250 to 300 feet, which could be in York instead of Kittery. Seacoast Properties bought land right at the town line on Route 1. Principal Duane Jellison said last fall he thought the land was half in York and half in Kittery when he purchased it. But a stamped survey determined the land is actually three-quarters in York.
The difference is not insignificant. York’s tax rate is $11.15 per thousand of valuation; Kittery’s is $16.80. Also in general terms, property sells for more in York than in Kittery. According to the online property database Zillow, the median home value in York is $410,700; in Kittery, it’s $370,800.
Selectmen’s Chairman Todd Frederick said he has met with Kittery Town Council Chairwoman Judy Spiller and Vice Chairman Matt Brock, as well as town managers Steve Burns of York and Kendra Amaral of Kittery.
“They said they really weren’t interested in doing anything, which I can understand. I’d feel the same way if it was them coming to us,” Frederick said. “We talked about it, and said, if the line changes what does that mean? That’s how it was left.”
[Border between two Maine towns has been a mystery since the 1700s]
“I don’t see any basis to renegotiate the existing boundary line,” Spiller said Friday. “If York were to mount a legal challenge, then my guess is that it would be the Kittery Town Council’s decision to pursue the challenge in court.”
Adding to the mix, a civil engineer for Civil Consultants in South Berwick said in his opinion the town boundary is clearly where Anderson indicated — north of where it is today. In 1993, he was the consulting engineer when York and Eliot had a boundary dispute. Eliot was once part of Kittery, so it was necessary to plot the line for Kittery and York as part of the historical record.
“The original town line was established in 1652 and it’s never been altered,” he said. That was reiterated in 1794, when two surveyors for Kittery and York independently returned surveys with “identical straight lines for the common boundary,” according to the 1993 report.
“At the same time, pricked red lines were added to both plans to show differing opinions as to lines of occupation and ownership,” the report states. “Unfortunately for both towns, later perambulations chose to ignore the 1653 straight line requirement, and follow the red pricked line of occupation.”
[York says new survey shows town line should be hundreds of feet farther into Kittery]
Mende said the two towns’ tax maps show a boundary that probably follows that “red pricked line” and coincides with the line shown on U.S. Geological Service maps. “The interesting thing is with regard to the tax maps, everyone understands those are not to be used for writing legal descriptions. That requires a boundary survey from a land surveyor, which brings us right back to where we are,” Mende said.
On Jan. 22, Seacoast Properties sought a building permit on its property for a shed. Harrison, in comments before the Board of Appeals, said the structure according to the town’s map was outside the town’s border line. She quoted a letter from town attorney Mary Costigan, who said, the issue “cannot be resolved unilaterally by York through a building permit application.”
Instead, there is a process set out by state law if there is a boundary dispute. Either town may file a complaint with the Superior Court, which appoints three commissioners to “ascertain the line and describe it by courses and distances,” and then set temporary markers. They then submit a report to the court and when the court accepts the report, the line established by the commissioners “becomes the true line for every municipal purpose.”
The decision is final. There is no appeal.
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York has already gone through this process for Eliot as well as for Ogunquit. York Selectman Mike Estes, who first raised this issue with the Board of Selectmen last fall, said he was on the board when the boundary was settled with Eliot, and came at the tail end of the process with Ogunquit. “So this is kind of the final piece. Let’s just get this settled. I can’t imagine Kittery is just going to hand us those acres.”
“I certainly think it’s worth looking into,” added Frederick. “If this has been a question since colonial times, I think we should look at correcting it. It could be the straight line. It could be the wiggly line. Let’s figure it out.”
Rob McKie of Seacoast Properties said his company will be following closely the selectmen’s discussion Monday night. “If selectmen say they are going to get things rolling, we would wait” to develop the parcel. “I don’t know if we can force the town to take care of it. But we do think this property is in the town of York.”
Burns said he is going to suggest selectmen let sleeping dogs lie, at least for now. The York Police Department is negotiating with area towns to pick up regional dispatch in order to comply with upcoming Maine Public Utilities Commission regulations.
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“It shows bad faith toward Kittery to get into a boundary dispute. It just poisons the well. And they don’t have the appetite for it,” he said. “This has been kicking around for 350 years. It’s not urgent. The issue will keep.”
Spiller takes it a step further: “My hope is that this issue just dies.”