Rock creates hard feelings in Hanover
After a summer of debate over the future of a very large rock that sits next to the Howard Pond Road in Hanover, could the solution be to move it?
Louise Jonaitis, who represents one party in the controversy, thinks it’s an option.
The rock first landed on a town agenda last spring, when the Planning Board reviewed an application from Glen and Suzanne LaForest of South Weber, Utah.
They wanted to build a log home next to the pond and, in the process, remove the rock, which sits between the home site and the road pavement.
But when some residents objected, saying that the rock had sentimental value for them, the LaForests’ plan turned into a town debate that has continued through the summer.
In the meantime, the construction of the home, approved by the board, got underway.
Some of the parties involved now disagree on whether the application’s approval stipulated that the rock stay or go.
X marks the rock
At the Selectmen’s meetings in July and this month, the rock fell in the selectmen’s laps. The gatherings drew between a dozen and 18 people.
Between those meetings, resident Bob Brown spray painted several red X’s on the rock.
That prompted a vandalism complaint to the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department.
Brown, who owns Plumbago Timber and Quarries LLC (located off the Howard Pond Road past the rock), said he had offered to remove it for the LaForests at a cost of $1,000. He acknowledges he also has in interest in moving it, because it is a hindrance to his trucks.
But he also said it could be a liability to the town and to the LaForests, because of safety. The X’s, he said, were intended to make it more visible to drivers.
An engineering consultant retained by the LaForests offered the opinion that the rock, in combination with the driveway location, is a hazard.
But, said Town Clerk Clem Worcester, a Maine Department of Transportation engineer offering an unofficial opinion said that with a 20 mph speed limit, the current sight distance from the driveway was acceptable, but it would also benefit from trimming some trees and from having a mirror installed to see traffic from the driveway.
In addition, said Worcester, the town had the road at that location surveyed. “It’s a three-rod road, and the rock is entirely within the road right-of-way,” he said.
Therefore, said Worcester, the property owners do not have the right to remove it.
Last week selectmen voted 2-1 to allow the rock to remain. Brenda Gross and Frank Morrison voted in favor, with Richard Stratton opposed, according to Worcester.
Gross had noted at the July board meeting that the rock had been on the site since the LaForests bought the property, according to that meeting’s minutes.
Jonaitis, who is a partner with Brown in PTQ, recently began representing the LaForests on the issue, at Brown’s suggestion, she said.
She argues that because the Planning Board approved the construction of the home, the LaForests have a reasonable assumption that they should be able to access the driveway and the garage without excessive maneuvering around the rock.
She said that after objections first arose about removing it, the LaForests said informally they would look into changing the driveway to a horseshoe-shape around the rock, but they then deter-mined that plan would not work.
Jonaitis said other rocks along the road have been removed because they are hazards, and this one should be no exception.
In the minutes of the May 5 Planning Board meeting, at which the LaForests’ building permit application was approved, mention is made that a surveyor had determined there was adequate space to build a house and garage without removing the rock. But the entry describing the vote itself only notes that the permit was approved and that the board voted to waive the sight distance requirement for a driveway entrance.
On June 17, the LaForests wrote to the selectmen asking that they "reconsider approval for immediate removal 'the rock' before an unforeseen mishap occurs."
Jonaitis said she is currently exploring several options.
She has contacted MDOT about formally evaluating the safety situation.
Another possibility, she said, would be for the town to give half the rock to the LaForests. In that case, she said, it would likely be broken down and turned into a retaining wall. The other half could be moved elsewhere.
But, she said, her first choice for solving the problem is to move the rock intact.
She said, for instance, it might be moved it to another part of town, just as the library had been moved from the Howard Pond Road several years ago.
“We can love the rock in a different location,” she said.
Hanover selectmen, meanwhile, decided to consult an attorney about the case, and about whether or not to pursue vandalism charges against Brown, Worcester said.
Asked Monday about the vandalism complaint, Sheriff Wayne Gallant said a deputy had handled it, and at this point, “Our involvement has ended. This is a property dispute as to who owns the rock.”
(Note: A call to two people opposed to removing the rock was not returned by press time.)