ELLSWORTH, Maine — Residents concerned about the fate of a derelict firehouse will have to wait a bit longer for the City Council to respond to their pleas to save the building.
Councilors voted 7-0 on Monday night to seek new attorneys to deal with the issue and to ask the building’s owner, Webber Group of Bangor, to continue its voluntary six-month delay of the demolition of the former Ticonic 4 firehouse on Route 1A.
At issue is some residents’ claims that the Ellsworth Village firehouse has historic value and that the council should overturn a demolition permit the city issued in September. Resident Judy Blood said that she had more than 500 signatures on a petition to save the firehouse.
But councilors were unclear as to whether they could rescind the order and when they turned to one of the city’s attorneys, John K. Hamer, he said that he and fellow city attorney Ed Bearor would have a conflict with advising the council because the firm they belong to, Rudman Winchell of Bangor, had worked for Webber previously.
“I am just amazed that we have gotten this far with a blatant conflict of interest and it wasn’t cut off months ago when we knew this was coming,” Councilor Gary Fourtier said.
Untainted legal advice will help councilors determine who, if anyone, in city government has the authority to overturn the permit, which the city’s code enforcement officer issued. The Ellsworth Board of Appeals told Blood during its meeting last month that it lacked the authority to rescind the permit, and referred her to the council.
The picture wasn’t any clearer on Monday. Hamer told council members that they could push the issue back before the appeals board or let participants in the conflict seek a remedy in civil court.
He said that he doubted that the appeals board had the authority to push the matter onto the council.
Resident Rebecca Maddocks-Wilbur, who supports saving the firehouse, expressed frustration with the confusion. She said that more than an attorney’s opinion might be needed to determine who, if anyone, in city government could rescind a demolition permit.
“It isn’t about [city government] being a fine-tuned machine,” Madducks-Wilbur said during the meeting. “In fact, the ordinances [of the City Charter] have huge gaps, and there was nothing in them that specifically applied to this.”
City Manager David Cole said he hopes to have new attorneys review the matter in time for the council meeting next month.