By Keith Morrill, Staff Writer
The Town of Charlotte has settled a legal dispute just days before a court-ordered mediation was schedule to begin. The settlement brings to a close a yearlong controversy with Thompson’s Point lessee Paul Arthaud and makes restitution for a misstep on the part of the town’s Selectboard.
The problem began when in 2014 the Selectboard approved Arthaud’s request to divide lot 127 on Flat Rock Road into two. One lot contained the original camp, the other—the newly created lot 128—housed a small outbuilding that had fallen into disrepair. Arthaud then sold the camp on 127 and transferred its lease to the new owners, retaining lot 128 for himself.
In 2016, Arthaud tried to sell that lot, signing an agreement of sale that fell apart when a permit to tear down and replace the decaying structure was denied by the Zoning Board of Adjustment. This was when the zoning board also uncovered that the division of the lot had been illegal. The Selectboard had erred in dividing it in the first place, an action which stands in clear violation of town ordnances.
In August, Arthaud appealed to the Vermont Environmental Court, which in turn ordered the parties to go to mediation. That date, July 11, was fast approaching when Arthaud’s lawyer, Liam Murphy, made an offer to settle.
In response, the Selectboard held an emergency meeting on the morning of Thursday, July 6. Several town officials were present, including Selectboard members Lane Morrison, Carrie Spear and Frank Tenney, as well as Town Administrator Dean Bloch and Town Clerk Mary Mead.
Arthaud initially claimed that, because of the zoning board’s decision, he was out $60,000 in profit and $10,000 in legal fees. After Arthaud’s settlement offer and the town’s counteroffer, both parties agreed that Arthaud would receive $30,000 in restitution and that Arthaud would both withdraw his appeal and release any claim to lot 128 and the structure there.
Selectboard Chair Lane Morrison recognizes the Selectboard’s misstep in the matter but says at this point it is in the best interest of both parties to settle. “We’re all trying to save the expense of going to mediation,” says Lane, though he recognizes it is fair that Arthaud receive restitution. “That’s what we’re trying to do, to give him some money back to compensate him for this error that was made.”
Because VCLT Property and Casualty Intermunicipal Fund, the town’s insurance company, has twice denied the town’s request to cover these expenses, the cost will have to come from town money, though the specifics of the money’s source have yet to be finalized.
Murphy says the settlement marks the end of Arthaud’s association with both Thompson’s Point and the town on the matter and that he and his client are pleased with the result. “We’re glad it came to a settlement before having to go to trial,” says Murphy
The dilapidated cabin will revert to town ownership and will remain standing for the time being. Its ultimate fate remains unclear, though a number of neighbors have voiced concern about the aesthetics and safety of the camp. Morrison says the town will have to spend time educating Selectboard members on the issue and exploring its options on what to do with the lot. “The town has a right to put a picnic table there and say it’s a public lot, access to the beach, but maybe there’s another solution, and that’s what we want to work on.”