GROTON -- In a strange turn of events, the Zoning Board of Appeals found itself in the position of refusing a request to withdraw an appeal by a local landowner. The issued cease-and-desist order forced him to stop all activity at his 58 Pine Trail property.
What brought the issue to a head was an agreement between property owner Richard Mavilia and the town as represented by zoning enforcement officer Edward Cataldo.
In the agreement, Mavilia agreed to use the property for the storage of registered vehicles only and possibly a boat, properly protected, to remove an existing shed, and not to conduct agricultural activity there.
In exchange, Cataldo, representing the town of Groton, agreed to rescind the cease-and-desist order he had earlier placed on the property.
The whole question of what Mavilia was doing on the lot was first brought to the town's attention when abutter Deborah Mendel complained about all the activity taking place there after the owner bought the property.
According to Mendel, the property was cleared of trees. Mavilia then began storing a boat and trailer and other vehicles there as well as construction material such as granite blocks and railroad ties. The latter were used for building a retaining wall around the steeply graded property.
At a meeting held April 17, Mendel described to ZBA members what she has had to contend with over the years, including noise, lights and foul language loud enough for her and her children to hear, all taking place virtually in her front yard.
The situation was brought to the attention of town planner Michelle Collette, who had been serving as the town's interim zoning enforcement officer. A letter was sent to Mavilia in February notifying the landowner that a cease-and-desist order had been placed on his property.
That's where matters stood until Mavilia chose to appeal the order to the ZBA.
At the hearing held April 17, Collette said the basis for the cease-and-desist order was a finding by town counsel that the property in question, as well as another directly across the street, also owned by Mavilia, had not been acquired by the same deed.
And here, Collette raised a point upon which the whole question of the proper use of the lot turned: Since Mavilia did not live in the house he owns across the street, he could not claim accessory use of the empty lot.
The question of accessory use became the focus of attorneys representing both sides of the case, and that initial meeting was continued pending advice from legal counsel sought by the board.
But all that was short-circuited when the ZBA received the agreement between Mavilia and the town that called for rescinding the cease-and-desist order followed by a request by the landowner to withdraw his appeal of the cease-and-desist order.
"I'm troubled by this," said board member Jay Prager. He felt that Cataldo's agreement with Mavilia cut out ZBA from a review process in which it has a direct interest.
If agreed to, the request would "pre-empt" the board's authority, said Prager. He wondered if the zoning enforcement officer could even rescind his own order.
Prager added that the agreement to rescind the order seemed like a complete reversal of Cataldo's original finding. "I need more information before I agree to allow a withdrawal."
"I clearly don't have a grasp on what the implications (of allowing the withdrawal) are," echoed board member Allison Manugian.
Stepping before the board, Cataldo explained that at the time he made the agreement with Mavilia and agreed to the withdrawal of the order, he did not know about the legal questions raised by the ZBA.
"I had no idea there was an appeal going on," said Cataldo. He said he had been under the impression that Pine Trail was not a public way, which affected his opinion that accessory use was allowed on the empty lot.
Entering an agreement with Mavilia was meant to calm the situation, Cataldo said. But knowing now that Pine Trail is a public way and seeing that the board has concerns about procedure as well as legal questions regarding the meaning and definition of accessory use, he recommended that members not allow the withdrawal.
The board did that, voting not to approve the request for withdrawal and instead scheduled a meeting for May 15 to meet with legal counsel and make a final decision on the appeal.