10/11/2005

Sail-Inn owners sue DOT; Merrill tackles eminent domain: (Waldo ME) Village Soup, 10/5/05

By Christine Parrish

The former owners of the Sail-Inn restaurant near the new Penobscot River bridge crossing in Prospect [ME] are suing the Maine Department of Transportation, saying it did not pay fair market value when it acquired the property through eminent domain.

Bob and Paul Dyer, former owners of the Sail-Inn restaurant, contend they were not adequately compensated for their five-acre property when the state took it by eminent domain two years ago and paid them $225,000.

According to the Dyers, the State Claims Commission reviewed the amount and increased it to $470,000.

The Dyers said that figure is also inadequate because it did not take into consideration the commercial value of the property, nor the unique location and views.

The Dyers are suing the DOT in Waldo County Superior Court for the amount they believe the property is worth — $1.6 million.

The restaurant is located on the bluffs above the Penobscot River and has expansive views of the river and the old Waldo-Hancock Bridge. When the new bridge is completed, it would be the closest restaurant to the new observation tower, which is expected to draw more visitors to the area.

“Everybody knows that most businesses pay dearly for location, location, location,” said Dick Dyer, spokesman for his brothers, Bob and Paul, at a press conference held at noon Monday in front of the closed Sail-Inn restaurant

“To discount the location entirely is just plain wrong, and my brothers need just treatment, and landowners in Maine deserve better treatment under eminent domain law,” said Dick Dyer as he tried to shout over the sound of whining truck brakes. “We know now that MDOT never needed to take the entire parcel.”

According to Dick Dyer, the DOT used less than one acre of the property for bridge construction, which did not affect the building or the parking lot for the Sail-Inn.

Rep. Merrill said she became concerned about eminent domain takings in Maine after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Kelo v. New London, in which the court upheld the right of the state of Connecticut to take private property under eminent domain, even if it was then transferred into other private ownership, as long as that ownership was “for the greater public good.”

She said the Kelo ruling left it open for individual states to pass legislation preventing such takings.

“My concern with the Kelo case has prompted me to submit legislation to protect Maine property owners from Maine’s government ever doing what was done in New London,” said Merrill. The case, she said, also prompted her to research how Maine has handled eminent domain takings.

Merrill said the state “overstepped its bounds” when it took the Sail-Inn property, and that legislation could limit the state to taking only what is absolutely necessary to accomplish a state project.

“It is clear as we stand here that the state DOT did not need to take the part of this property where the actual business was located,” she said at the press conference.

Merrill said her legislation, which will be scheduled to be heard when the Legislature reconvenes in January, would apply statewide and would apply retroactively to the owners of the Sail-Inn restaurant.

“My goal … is to have the restaurant restored to its owners and see this family business back in operation, maybe as soon as next summer,” she said.

But the former owners, who have sold all the kitchen equipment, estimate it would take a half million dollars to refurnish the restaurant so it is ready to operate.

“I would never say never,” said Bob Dyer, when asked if he wanted to operate the Sail-Inn again at the current location. “We had a lot of locals and return tourist clientele.”

“My mom still hears from people who used to come to the restaurant,” said Paul Dyer.

The two brothers bought the business from their parents, Eddie and Vera Dyer, 15 years ago and shared the duties of running it. Together, the Dyer family owned and operated the Sail-Inn for more than 50 years.

“It was busy, really busy,” Paul said. The restaurant seated 77 people in the summer and 53 in the winter, when the outside deck was closed. Paul Dyer said it was nonstop business in the summer from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“We also had great winter clientele,” he said. “As you can see, there is quite a bit of traffic going by our door right now, and it’s October.”

The case of Paul Dyer and Robert Dyer v. the Maine Department of Transportation has not yet been scheduled, according to Dick Dyer.


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