The latest court ruling in a decades-long dispute may result in nothing much new — unless you count the fines that could be imposed on Ralph and Barbara Holton, owners of the Tispaquin Family Campground near Middleboro, Mass.
The Holtons have been in a legal battle with the town for most of the 29 years they have owned the campground. They contend they should be able to have double the number of campsites allowed by the Zoning Board of Appeals when they applied for a special permit after they bought the property, The Standard-Times, New Bedford, reported.
The town has taken a number of steps to stop the Holtons from hosting more than 100 camping units, including legal action relating to health code violations and denying a license to operate.
Recently, the town took a different tack and the building commissioner filed suit in Plymouth Superior Court alleging the Holtons’ operation violates zoning bylaws because the number of units exceed the 57 sites specified in the zoning board permit.
Last week, Superior Court Judge Robert Cosgrove ordered the Holtons to reduce the number of vehicles or campsites at the campground by 10, and to continue reducing the number until the total is 57. The deadline for the first 10 units to be removed is tomorrow.
Mrs. Holton said she has retained a lawyer specializing in appeals, and that she plans to appeal the ruling. She said she hopes to get a stay from Judge Cosgrove before the deadline.
Town Manager Charles Cristello, who attended the hearing on June 1 where the town presented its complaint, said he expected that when an inspection takes place tomorrow, nothing will have changed.
“I went on the site visit when we counted the units,” the town manager said. “(Mrs. Holton) said, ‘These are all my friends, I can’t decide, so I will have to close the park.'”
The town manager’s expectations were also colored by the fact that the campground has been operating without a license from the Board of Health for the past nine years. The town’s efforts to get the campground in compliance with health regulations, specifically those dealing with the facility’s septic system, have been unsuccessful.
Cristello said the results of the latest legal action may be different at some point because this time there are serious financial consequences.
“The judge said, ‘The court’s order will be complied with or I will impose substantial fines,'” the town manager said.
Cristello said the town took the zoning route to resolving issues with the campground because of the Holtons’ inaction with regard to the health violations. He said something had to be done to end the stalemate.
“Why would anybody want to comply with the town’s rules if the town’s not going to enforce them?” he said.
In April, Chairman of Selectmen Al Rullo told Ms. Holton, who makes an annual appearance before the board, that her application for a license for 113 sites could not be approved because a superior court judge ruled the campground’s septic system is inadequate by current standards to serve that number of campers. It was noted during the hearing that the Holtons’ own engineer testified that the septic system was adequate to serve a maximum of 49 sites.
Mrs. Holton said she had an engineer design a new system, but she said she would not submit plans to the state Department of Environmental Protection and proceed further with the new system unless the selectmen, who act as the Board of Health, gave her a license and allowed her to maintain 113 units — about the number currently occupied at one time or another — pending approval and construction of the new septic system. The selectmen refused.
This week, Mrs. Holton said she has filed an “equal protection” suit against the town in Brockton Court because she believes she is being held to standards that are not required of other campgrounds. She said she may also file with the zoning board for an amendment to her special permit allowing additional campsites. But she acknowledged the clock is ticking and she may be facing stiff fines.
“I’m hoping I can get a stay,” she said.