One of the most popular attractions in midcoast Maine is fighting to expand and could be taking the town of Boothbay to federal court. The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens has been planning a major construction project, but the garden’s growth has been controversial.
"They are looking to scale up in a Disneyland kind of way," said Jason Anthony, whose family owns property that abuts the expansion site.
The Anthonys are worried that the construction could compromise the region’s water supply, Knickerbocker Lake. They are also concerned that it could disrupt the area's wetlands, and create too much noise and traffic in the small and quiet area.
"Once you start fighting for things as important as this, it’s hard to stop," said Anthony. His family has been fighting the project at every phase. After a year of public hearings and appeals, the Boothbay Board of Appeals voted 3-2 this fall to overturn the Planning Board’s approval of the project. Board members decided the construction was inappropriate for a watershed zone.
But according to a 15-page complaint filed in federal court this week, two Board of Appeals members met with the Anthony family privately before making that final vote.
"[The proceedings] violated the Gardens' clearly established constitutional due process rights guaranteeing notice and the opportunity to be heard at all government proceedings where evidence putting a party’s property rights at stake is gathered," the complaint states.
After those private meetings, the board held an on-the-record site visit to as a "cure" – but a lawyer for the Gardens' alleges that it was insufficient to “purge the taint” of the private meetings with the Anthonys.
"They agreed the process was effective at the time, and they made no complaint [about the cure] whatsoever," said Jason Anthony. "At the last minute they started crying foul when the vote didn’t go their way."
A lawyer and the director of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens declined to be interviewed and said the complaint speaks for itself. A court date for has not yet been set.
The planned expansion includes a new visitor center, gift shop, restaurant, research facility, and parking lots. In 2016, visitation to the gardens grew to 190,000 people, and the CMBG says the expansion will help accommodate the crowds, creating jobs and bringing more tourism dollars to the area.