To our readers,

The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-century type story, ... Click here to continue

Neighbors voice concerns about open-air church services

Residents challenge deed town used as basis for land swap
By Fran Gonzalez | Sep 10, 2020
Courtesy of: Calvary Chapel Belfast Cars line the parcel, owned by Chris and Diane Colby, where Calvary Chapel Belfast has conducting services with open-air sermons and Bible studies since the beginning of August.

Searsport — Neighbors of the Birch Lane subdivision pleaded with selectmen Sept. 1 about noise and alleged health and zone violations stemming from church services held under a tent on a parcel of land, to which Chris and Diane Colby claim ownership.

Additionally, residents brought up town transparency issues revolving around a land-swap deal that conveyed the foreclosed property to the Colbys in exchange for land owned by the Colbys next to Mt. Ephraim Road Cemetery.

Calvary Chapel Belfast has been conducting outside services at the makeshift church since the beginning of August with amplified sermons and musical performances held under a large open tent near the ocean — this in spite of a cease and desist letter delivered to the Colbys by the town code enforcement officer several weeks ago for zoning violations.

Town Manager James Gillway said previously that the violation comes from the parcel in question being used institutionally, which, according to a town ordinance, is not permitted in a residential area.

Joanna Owen, a subdivision neighbor, claimed the land was not the town's to convey initially and believed an old deed was used that did not properly identify current owners.

"They (town officials) lifted the exact language out of this 2000 deed as being a legal description," she said. "What they didn’t take into account is after 2000, property was transferred."

The deed from the town, according to Owen, conveys her home along with two other owners' properties. "The deed from the town to the Colbys is fatality defective," she said, and pleaded with the selectmen to fix the deed.

When describing her current situation in the neighborhood, Owen said "it's an absolute nightmare" with noise all day on Sunday and Thursday. "They plug in the drums, the guitars and everything else."

Dr. Michael Housman, who operates a chiropractic clinic directly north on Route 1, asked selectmen to imagine that right next to where they live, there are ATVs going up and down by their window, there are fireworks going off, and a church service is blasting music. There is a constant barrage of noise happening in your backyard.

"How would you feel?" he asked. "Invaded."

While he sympathized with the church in its quest to find a new home, he felt the neighborhood was being "terrorized," with neighbors afraid to speak out for fear of retribution, or feeling "they've poked the bear."

"Right now it's a simmering pot that's about to boil over," Housman said. "Something's about to give."

Another neighbor, Bill Stone, who has owned a home in the subdivision since 2006, took issue with the town not publicly giving notice of the sale. Nobody in the subdivision, he said, was aware of any open meetings pertaining to traded lands and he only learned of approval in early August.

Elizabeth Thompson-Greenberg has owned property in the subdivision for nearly 30 years and said residents of the neighborhood have always shown respect for the land, the community and one another.

Over the years, she said, new neighbors have joined the community and made improvements to the benefit of everyone. Greenberg recognized change is inevitable but said it did not always have to be bad or with harmful consequences.

The community is "suffering disruption to our lives," she said, because of the ongoing operations of an institution in a residential area. She asked selectmen to uphold the cease and desist order to prevent ongoing activity and also to protect the neighborhood from hundreds of people congregating without any social distancing or without any facial coverings.

"That scares me," she said.

Greg Huston, Pastor of Calvary Chapel Belfast, told The Republican Journal Sept. 10 the church was aware of the excessive noise claims, and has offered to have two sermons on Sunday to lessen the number of parishioners attending at a time. The trade-off, he said, would be a longer time period that the church would be holding services.

He also said they have been thinking of possibly holding the Thursday night services somewhere else, but he has not yet confirmed this.

Addressing COVID-19 concerns, Huston said they were allowing people to make their own decisions on whether to wear a mask or social distance.

Elaborating on a road Chris Colby is building on the parcel, Huston said, "that road is not put in for us." The road is for Colby to have direct access to a house he owns, he said, in an adjacent parcel.

He said the church is actively seeking an alternative location, but because of COVID-19 and the size of the congregation, "we are limited in what we can do, which is, unfortunately, irritating our neighbors."

"We have no plans of rocking out all winter," Huston said.

Linda Ashey said she was the oldest resident of the Birch Lane cul-de-sac present at the Sept. 1 selectmen's meeting, having lived in the subdivision 46 years. Her concern had to do with the environment; she felt Chris Colby was disturbing the land and animals that reside there.

"Mr. Colby is destroying the environment for these plants to exist, the little creatures, the frogs are not there anymore, the root systems have been plowed up," she said.

On church camp day, she said, there are about 75 children in the water by the beach area, which now is not as clean as it once was. Ashey said the atmosphere in her neighborhood has changed and not for the better.

"We wouldn’t mind if they were quiet in their own little church, not broadcasting it throughout the neighborhood," she said. "That’s their business. I don’t play my music for them to hear, or I don’t preach to them about the plants which I’m totally involved in or the creatures, the wildlife that are now missing."

She asked selectmen to act now for the people who pay their taxes and to help preserve the natural environment in her neighborhood. "It isn't zoned for a church," she said.

Ashey also acknowledged that change is inevitable but added, "The beach probably won’t be  much longer. I won’t be here much longer, but I’d love for the last (part) of my life to be as quiet as we have had it."

The Republican Journal contacted Chris Colby who declined to comment for this story. Attempts to reach Searsport Town Manager James Gillway were unsuccessful as of press time.

If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at waldo.villagesoup.com/join.
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at waldo.villagesoup.com/donate.
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.