Judge To Weigh In On Dispute Over Land Ossipee Wants To Purchase For Town Beach

Jan 8, 2018

A Massachusetts resident who uses the campground that would be sold for the beach holds a campaign sign outside November's special town meeting. The town says the campground's owner broke her sale contract by campaigning against the beach plan.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

A Carroll County judge will soon decide if a lakefront landowner in Ossipee can sell her property to someone other than the town, which wants to turn it into a residents-only beach.

The town's plan to spend $1.2 million on land for an Ossipee Lake beach failed by just a handful of votes at a special town meeting in November. That land is currently a seasonal campground, owned by Dianne Sheehan.

She had agreed to sell it to the town, but officials say she broke that contract by actively campaigning against the beach proposal last year.

In a complaint filed in Superior Court in December, the town alleges Sheehan had another, better offer from a different buyer, and faced pressure from her campers to take it.

In her response, Sheehan admits she has another buyer, but denies she organized an anti-beach campaign. She says town officials aggressively threatened to sue her if she didn’t sell.

“Feeling backed into a corner, and tricked … Sheehan panicked and signed the [contract], feeling as though it was her only option,” Sheehan’s lawyers write in their response to the town’s complaint.

Sheehan says the town broke a written promise to preserve her campground after building the beach. The town disagrees, and they’ve asked Sheehan to pay damages for allegedly breaking her contract to “benefit herself at the expense of the town.”

“Ms. Sheehan violated her legal duty by actively engaging in a campaign to seek defeat of the [contract] by waging a war of words against the Town and its selectmen,” the town wrote in its initial complaint.

That complaint won the town a temporary injunction to keep Sheehan from selling her land to someone else. Now, Ossipee has asked Superior Court judge Amy Ignatius to extend that injunction through mid-March, when Town Meeting could take up the beach plan again.

Ossipee town attorney Richard Sager says he’s not sure what form the proposal would take the second time around. But he’s still hoping they’ll get another chance to put the issue to a vote.

“The selectmen want to provide an opportunity to the voters to buy the beach, free of any interference or lobbying by Ms. Sheehan,” he wrote in an email to NHPR. “In essence, the Town wants Ms. Sheehan to stop interfering with the contract she signed with the Town.”

Sheehan’s lawyer didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Ignatius’ ruling is expected in the coming weeks.