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ATV issue splits Paris
OVERFLOW — So many residents came to weigh in on ATV access that the public meeting room was overfilled, mostly with ATV supporters. Some stood behind a partition dividing the room from a neighboring room to maintain fire code compliance.
PARIS — Board of Selectmen members expressed sharp disagreement over whether ATVs should be used on town roads, but they did agree on one aspect of the ongoing issue.
By a unanimous vote, the board voted to table the matter for one month, while members seek legal advice from the Maine Municipal Association (MMA) on how to proceed.
The issue came up as part of an ongoing dispute about whether the town should allow ATVs to ride on the extreme right of Parsons Road.
Approximately 30 ATV supporters and several homeowners were on hand to weigh in on the issue. The large crowd overfilled the legal capacity of the room, necessitating the opening of an adjacent room to accommodate the extra people.
Both sides found ready allies on the board.
Selectman Ted Kurtz, who is an attorney, said that the law clearly supports the use of ATVs on Parsons Road, regardless of objections from a small number of homeowners.
"Noise questions ... have to be decided by the average, normal people in the community, because you can't have property rights being determined by one person," said Kurtz. "That's just the law. The standard here is not whether the Hakalas are concerned. The standard should be whether a reasonable person living in their house would be so upset with this that they would cause the board of selectmen to rule that ATVs can't use that road."
He said that he thought that "an overwhelming majority" of Paris residents would not object to the ATV traffic.
Selectwoman Jean Smart said that the matter goes beyond a strict interpretation of the law, and instead is a broader question that should take the overall standard of living in the community into account.
"The law may be helpful, but it doesn't always address every issue that we face. It doesn't address, for example, the issue of quality of life," said Smart. "Living in a home where they feel safe is part of the quality of life."
Resident Sally Leighton spoke in favor of the ATV riders, and said that her family enjoys coming out of their house to watch riders go by.
"Don't let the rights of the few outweigh the rights of many," she said.
Jim and Paula Hakala disputed claims that they are the sole opponents of ATV usage on Parsons, a town road that runs past their home.
"There are nine taxpaying inhabitants on the paved portion of Parsons Road," said Jim Hakala. When it comes to ATV access, said Hakala "one is for it, six are against it, and two don't give a hoot. Our view is the majority of the paved Parsons Road residents, 66 percent in fact ... do not wish ATV public road access."
They were joined by at least one other homeowner on Parsons Road.
Kurtz said that undocumented reports of other oppositional homeowners were hearsay, and could not be included in the board's deliberations.
Paula Hakala said that the disagreement has taken a personal turn.
"There's been intimidation used, threats used, bullying used and half-truths, and it has become obvious that if your opinion stands in the way of them getting what they want, then there will be problems," she said.
Kurtz said that ATV usage fits in with the town's character, as established in the comprehensive plan that describes development goals in Paris.
"If you look at the town comprehensive plan, it says right flat out we're about recreation," said Kurtz. "That's what we do in Paris, Maine. This decision, as it now stands, clearly goes against the grain, the spirit and the letter, of the Comprehensive Plan."
Both Kurtz and Smart called for a universal standard that could be applied to all town roads.
If such a standard is adopted, the outcome of the Parsons Road dispute could have major consequences for the rest of the town. A ruling in the Hakala's favor could foreshadow more restrictions on ATV use, while a ruling against them could pave the way for more ATV access on public roads.
"It's a much bigger picture or issue than just the Parsons Road," said Smart. "It's almost like having an elephant in the middle of your living room that you keep walking around because you don't want to have to deal with it."
Smart said that the community needs to collectively make a decision that applies to everyone.
"We need to develop some kind of policy ... which addresses every road in town," she said, "because at some time, my road might be affected, your road might be affected. As a community, what do we want?"
Mark Stearns of the X-tra Mile ATV Club (XMAC), said that he started the club six years ago, partly in order to address ATV riding concerns.
"In talking to landowners, the issue was, there's no legal riding, and people were riding everywhere," said Stearns.
The board members hope to agree on exactly what legal questions need to be asked in order to resolve the issue by their next meeting. At the following meeting, they hope to make a decision with legal advice in hand. The board's next two meetings will be held at the Paris Fire Station in order to accommodate the large number of people who have expressed interest in the issue.
In January, the board voted in a 3-2 decision to revoke ATV access from the road. ATV access is still permitted on four other town roads.
Stearns said that the group is continuing to work to find a connecting route that would eliminate the club's need to use Parsons Road.