ELLSWORTH, Maine — A local resident’s effort to stop the planned demolition of a derelict former firehouse hit a snag Monday night when a city board indicated that it doesn’t think it has the authority to overturn the city’s decision to issue a demolition permit.
Judy Blood, who lives next door to the former Ticonic 4 firehouse on Route 1A, contends that the owner of the building, Webber Group of Bangor, promised the city when it bought the property 13 years ago for $5,000, that it would preserve the historic building from the late 1800s.
Blood and others say the building, despite its deteriorated condition, is of local historic value and should be preserved — and that for years the City Council shared this same opinion. More than once over a period of nearly 20 years, the council indicated that it would only sell the building to someone who would preserve it, according to Blood.
But last month, Dwight Tilton, the city’s code enforcement officer, issued a demolition permit for the structure to Webber. When Blood objected, he told her she should appeal his issuance of the permit to the city’s appeals board.
When the board met Monday night to consider the appeal, board members indicated right off the bat that they don’t think they have the authority to weigh in on demolition permits. The board’s authority is to decide matters that apply to the city’s land use ordinance, but the ordinance makes no mention of demolition permits.
“This is all new,” Appeals Board Chairman Jeffrey Toothaker told a few dozen people who had gathered for the proceeding. “We’ve never had an appeal like this before. We’re in nebulous territory.”
Instead, the board decided to put its consideration of Blood’s appeal on hold for six months, so Blood can have time to ask the elected City Council to reconsider the demolition permit. It also voted to suspend the permit, ostensibly putting the demolition on hold pending the outcome of Blood’s efforts to have the permit rescinded.
“I’d like the City Council to deal with this,” Toothaker said. “They created the problem. They should fix it.”
Ed Bearor, the city’s attorney, agreed that he doesn’t think the appeals board has the jurisdiction to weigh in on the demolition permit. He also said he doubts that the board has the legal authority to suspend the permit. The board does not have the authority to revoke a demolition permit, he said.
“In my opinion, you’re not the proper board to appeal to” in this matter, he told the board.
Blood pitched her argument to the board anyway. She said that several times, in the late 1980s and again in the 2000s, the City Council explicitly indicated that it wanted to see the building preserved. When it solicited proposals from possible owners to buy the building from the city in 2005, its request for proposals explicitly said the council would have to pre-approve any change in use for the building.
“Certainly, demolishing the building constitutes a change in use,” she said.
Bearor and Toothaker, who also is an attorney, each said that whatever preferences or conditions the city may have outlined when it was trying to sell the derelict firehouse may not matter. Usually, any use restrictions that are agreed upon during sale negotiations are included in the deed when ownership of the property is transferred — but there are no such restrictions included in the deed for the firehouse property.
Blood said she is willing to appeal the matter to Hancock County Superior Court if the city decides not to revoke the permit.
In the meantime, the board asked Bearor to contact Webber and to tell the company that the city was still trying to decide how to handle Blood’s appeal. Webber, according to city officials, has said it was willing for the appeals board to weigh in before acting on the permit.
The company hasn’t returned messages seeking comment.
Given the city’s uncertainty of how to move forward, Bearor said he expects that Webber will be willing to wait some more.
“I think they understand the optics” of how well it would go over if Webber tore the building down before the city decided what to do, Bearor said.
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