BANGOR, Maine — A historic home that has become a derelict eyesore along the Penobscot River could be coming down this winter after the latest twist in the lengthy battle over the future of the property.
Bangor’s appeals board on Tuesday overruled a city commission charged with preserving historic landmarks, likely clearing the way for the demolition of the structure on the former waterworks site.
Late last year, Bangor’s Historic Preservation Commission denied an application from the Shaw House, an agency that works with homeless and at-risk youth, to tear down the 124-year-old house that has been deteriorating for half a century on its property.
Following a lengthy hearing, the four members of the city’s appeals board voted unanimously to overturn the Historic Preservation Commission and allow Shaw House to move ahead with the demolition.
Rick Tardiff, who runs the Shaw House with his wife, Sally Tardiff, said they were “appreciative” of the board’s decision. Under city ordinance, they must wait at least 180 days before they can demolish the property, giving prospective buyers a chance to step forward to purchase the building.
The building has been up for sale since the preservation commission denied the application in December.
“No prospective purchasers have expressed serious interest in purchasing the building,” Tardiff said in an email Wednesday.
The engineer’s house, known by some as the gatekeeper’s or superintendent’s house, served the city’s water department until the late 1950s, when Bangor and five surrounding towns formed a water district and built a new water system, leaving the old waterworks facility along the river vacant.
The engineer’s house was boarded up in the mid-1970s after being deemed uninhabitable, and it has been vacant ever since.
In 2007, Shaw House moved into the waterworks site after completing a $6.8 million renovation effort, converting the brick structure into low-income apartments. That project largely used federal and state funding. The engineer’s house was left out, but Shaw House officials said at the time that they would like to convert the building into office space in the future.
Contractor Nickerson & O’Day of Brewer picked up the house and moved it about 100 feet to make room for a circular driveway and parking area. When it did that, it placed it on top of a badly needed new foundation, worth about $70,000. It also tarped the roof to stop leaks that had badly damaged the interior over the years. The roof was later replaced, at a cost of about $9,000.
Years later, that office conversion hadn’t happened and the leadership of Shaw House changed. The Tardiffs were left with a building they didn’t want and couldn’t afford to restore.
When Shaw House approached the city’s preservation commission asking permission to tear the building down, they met resistance. Some commissioners felt Shaw House hadn’t done enough to maintain the building, and held them to the past statements that they would renovate the property.
They voted 4-3 to deny the certificate of appropriateness that would have allowed Shaw House to move forward with the demolition. Shaw House later appealed the decision, leading to Tuesday morning’s hearing before the Board of Appeals.
City codes state a historic property can only be demolished if it’s incompatible with the historic district it’s located in or if the owner can demonstrate it is incapable of earning an economic return on its value.
“There was no economic return viable here,” argued Gene Sullivan, a Bangor attorney representing Shaw House.
An evaluation in 2009, exploring whether the building could be converted to house a law office, concluded the conversion would cost $308,000. A more recent estimate placed the renovation costs over $1 million.
An appraisal conducted by the Sherwood Group last year found that the building is uninhabitable and “in such poor condition it has no economic value and has no contributory value to its leased site.” The Sherwood Group said that any project to renovate the house for occupancy would be “cost prohibitive.”
Sullivan said the preservation commission could appeal the board of appeal’s ruling, or seek a court injunction to stop the demolition. Without an injunction, the clock on the 180-day demolition clock will continue to tick.
There was no word Wednesday on whether the preservation commission plans to pursue those avenues. Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas, who represented the commission during the appeal hearing, wasn’t available for comment Wednesday and attempts to reach members of the commission were unsuccessful.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.