2017-02-02 / Front Page

City answers in lawsuit over contract zone vote

By Anthony Aloisio
Contributing Writer

SACO – The city’s attorney has filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a Saco resident over the council’s approval of a contract zone agreement, which she argues was improper.

The motion was filed on behalf of the defendants in the case, which include six councilors, the mayor, and the city administrator, but not the city itself. The lawsuit, which is filed as an appeal, also names the headmaster and the board chairman of Thornton Academy – which was party to the contract zone agreement – as parties in interest.

As the Courier reported in its Jan. 12 issue, resident Barbara Colman argues that the council failed to meet a process requirement before approving an amendment to a contract zone agreement that allowed Thornton Academy to operate a new housing facility from property at 95 King St. Colman brought the lawsuit personally and not on behalf of Saco Citizens for Sensible Government, a watchdog group of which she is a member.

In the defendants’ motion to dismiss the appeal, they argue first that Colman does not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit, and later – and more technically – that her suit failed to name Thornton Academy directly as a defendant, and the type of appeal she sought was not proper for the relief for which she asked.

To qualify to bring a lawsuit, “parties must have some unique or ‘particularized’ injury,” the defendants argued in their motion.

“Plaintiff (Colman) does not abut the premises, and is not a resident within the general neighborhood of the premises at 95 King Street,” the motion read further. “On the contrary, (Colman) lives about a mile from the subject property. Thus, she will not suffer and unique injury arising, if any, from Thornton Academy’s re-use of the premises.”

Colman lives on Stockman Avenue, according to her original filing. The city’s motion argued additionally that Colman’s status as a resident and renter in the city does not give her legal standing.

“The potential injury she complains of,” read the motion, “is not unique or particularized. It is an injury, to the extent one even exists, that will be applied across the entire population of tax payers in Saco. Moreover, it is entirely speculative that any reduction in total property tax revenues related to Thornton Academy’s purchase and re-use, will even pass through to property renters such as (Colman).”

The defendants’ other arguments are more technical. The second argument contends that Thornton Academy should have been named as a defendant because any effect the suit could on the contract zone agreement would directly affect the school’s interest. The suit only names school officials, and not the school itself, and names them as “parties in interest” rather than as defendants. The third argument from the defendants is that Colman improperly asked for relief in the form of money damages – $50,000 – while the type of appeal that she is making does not allow for money damages.

Colman said that she has hired an attorney to represent her in the case, Alan Shepard, of Shepard and Read, a Kennebunk law firm. She had filed the suit initially without legal representation. Colman also said that she is hoping to add more Saco residents to the suit as plaintiffs

“(My attorney) agrees that if we have more individuals wanting to add their name to the lawsuit it would be a benefit in the sense of legal standing,” she wrote in an email.

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