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Golf club says abutter's driveway has a bad lie

Maine planning board mulls resident's legacy vs. legality

Email|Print| Text size + By Jenna Russell
Globe Staff / January 28, 2008

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine - Tucked under towering oaks by a glittering curve of the Kennebunk River, the Cape Arundel Golf Club has rich history and members who reportedly include George H. W. Bush, the former president.

Orrin Frink, a retired professor of Russian and other languages, also has rich history in the scenic river bend. His family has owned land there since the 1700s, and Frink and his wife, Nina Pearlmutter, a patent lawyer and botanist, are building an unusual, dome-shape house at the edge of the golf course.

Tensions between the club and the couple have simmered for years; Frink was the lone holdout when his siblings sold their land to the golf course. His futuristic-looking dome, set against a classic New England backdrop of woods and old farmhouses, has drawn criticism from some golfers. But a deeper conflict erupted recently, after Frink and Pearlmutter accused the club of trying to seize part of their property illegally.

The couple say the golf club wants to take a narrow strip of land where a newly built road on their property gives them access to their home, a scenario that would force them to use another access way through the parking lot of a separate property, the 1802 House bed-and-breakfast.

"They're taking private land for a private, commercial purpose, not a public use, and that's a violation of the Constitution," Frink said. "If the Planning Board approves it, it should send a chill through the heart of anyone who lives here, because if they do it to me, they can do it to anyone else."

Supporters of the golf club say the plan is designed only to create a safer access way where the couple would face less risk from flying golf balls. They say the plan was approved by a judge in a previous decision in York County Superior Court.

"It's all about safety with the club - it's not greed," Roger J. O'Donnell III, a lawyer who represented the club in the court case, said at a meeting of the Kennebunkport Planning Board earlier this month.

"The judge said, 'If the club can find a shorter way in, that's how I want this to work,' " O'Donnell said. "You may not like it, but you have to accept it."

The Planning Board, which must decide whether to approve the new use for the parking lot at the bed-and-breakfast, voted to continue the public hearing until March, to give the club time to respond to concerns of abutters and other residents.

The golf club had a modest beginning in 1896, with a clubhouse in a barn and farm crops for scenery, according to its website. Its course was later designed by architect Walter Travis, and George Herbert Walker, a Republican banker with an estate in Kennebunkport, became a member. Walker's daughter Dorothy was the mother of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president.

Now a semiprivate course with public tee times, the Cape Arundel club has not abandoned its unpretentious Yankee origins. No guardhouse monitors its entrance, and on the white-railed porch, where wooden rocking chairs creak in summer, the flooring of choice is a practical, green outdoor carpet.

The history of the Frink family land dates to the earliest days of Kennebunkport, long before Maine became a state in 1820. Orrin Frink's grandmother lived in the town's second-oldest house, built in 1750, he said, and he spent his childhood summers there, sometimes caddying at the golf course next door.

For decades, his mother, Aline Frink, a mathematician, rented 20 acres to the golf course, which used the property for several of its 18 greens. She died in 2000 and left the land to her four children.

"She intended to take it with her," Orrin Frink says, smiling. "She just couldn't figure out how."

His siblings sold their shares to the golf club in 2002, but Frink held onto his, determined to build a home near a tiny cemetery where his ancestors are buried. In court, he worked out with the club which land he would take, and the decision, in 2004, gave him 3.9 acres - a buildable site and two narrow strips of land to be used for a road to the spot.

Frink and Pearlmutter say they considered a more traditional design for their house, but fell in love with the dome architecture, which they consider a modern version of the Abenaki dwellings that were the first in the region.

Their current conflict with the club comes from language in the court decision that seems to allow the club to replace the route to the Frink home and claim the strip of existing driveway, if a shorter access way can be found.

The couple say they are not required to give up their land for an inferior access. If their driveway runs through the parking lot, they argue, it will lower their property value and increase congestion and safety hazards. They scoff at assertions that the existing road is dangerous, and say they offered to pay for a fence and protective netting. (They had already waived their right to damage claims against the club before the current dispute.)

Especially irksome, they say, is the secrecy of the club, where the current president may or may not be a member, and which has yet to show them its agreement with the bed-and-breakfast.

"It's hard to know who you're dealing with," said Frink.

Jenna Russell can be reached at jrussell@globe.com.

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