Concerned about the safety of an estimated 40 or so people living long-term at a former motel on Route 1 that does not have a working furnace, Bucksport town officials are looking to designate the property a “dangerous building” so they can order the residents to leave.
Luke Chiavelli, the town’s code enforcement officer, said he is not eager to force out people living at the Fountain Inn, formerly known as the Spring Fountain Motel, but he thinks it likely is just a matter of time before the building catches fire. Some residents are using unsafe space heaters to heat their rooms, while others are resorting to stoves and hair dryers to stay warm.
“It’s really sketchy and dangerous,” Chiavelli told the town council on Thursday.
Among other issues are sinks that lack adequate plumbing and drain into buckets, and substandard smoke detectors, many of which don’t work, Chiavelli said. There are also some electrical problems he did not specify, and many of the people living at the property smoke in their rooms.
“This is about life safety issues,” Bucksport Town Manager Susan Lessard told the council, echoing Chiavelli’s concerns. “It has the potential to be a very, very bad scene if something happened there.”
From left (clockwise): Bucksport moves to condemn the Spring Fountain Motel on Route 1 citing safety concerns for the people who live long-term in the former motel. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
The council voted Thursday to set an April 8 hearing to decide whether to designate the inn as a dangerous building, which would allow the town to ban anyone from staying there. There is no faster legal mechanism the town can use to address the issue and to force people off the property, Chiavelli told councilors.
Representatives of the inn did not respond Friday to a voicemail or email seeking comment.
Lessard said Friday that the inn owes the town more than $30,000 in sewer bills and liens and still has not paid more than $4,000 in property taxes that were due last August. Another $5,000 in property taxes is due at the end of March. She said the sewer liens have not matured and the property is not in foreclosure for either sewer or taxes by the town.
“This proposed action is the result of a multi-year effort to have the ownership address the life/safety issues at the facility,” Lessard said. “It has no innkeepers license and is operating as a multi-unit rental property.”
The property has come under scrutiny several times in recent years, and not just because of the poor living conditions.
It caught fire in March 2014, though no injuries were reported. Two years ago, a former manager was charged with assaulting children at the inn and, in a separate incident, a resident was arrested there in the 2017 killing of a child elsewhere in Bucksport.
Chiavelli and Sean Geaghan, the town’s public safety director, told the council that town staff have tried repeatedly to get the property owner to address the substandard conditions, to no avail. Chiavelli said the people who manage the property don’t have the skills to adequately maintain the building. The owner, who he said lives in New Jersey, has not invested enough money in the property to make sure it meets minimum requirements.
Geaghan said he not only is concerned about the safety of residents at the residential inn, but also for first responders who may have to go there to handle emergencies.
Geaghan estimated that roughly 40 of the rooms are occupied, and said the number of people living there is believed to be higher.
“Some of the rooms have a lot of people in them,” he said.
If the town deems the inn to be a dangerous building, it can order the property to be vacated, even if the town’s action is appealed in court, Chiavelli said. Any appeal would focus solely on the process for condemning the property, rather than on the reasons for it, which means if an appeal were upheld the town could go back and properly condemn the motel again.
Chiavelli said he is concerned about where the inn residents will go if they have to move out, but he said the situation at the motel is too dire to let it continue.
“Some of these people are really good people that are just really down on their luck and this is the best place they have to go,” he said.