ADDISON, Maine — The annual town meeting this week went fairly smoothly until a proposal to give selectmen authority to demolish privately owned property on Water Street led to a heated dispute over using public money for such a purpose.
More than 100 residents voted on 30 articles of routine business at Tuesday’s meeting, yet when the issue arose as to whether the town should have the power to remove several rundown buildings in the center of Addison that are not publicly owned, the arguments turned emotional.
Town officials say efforts have been made for nearly 10 years to have owner Richard Kelsey, who lives in Massachusetts, renovate or remove the five buildings, with no resolution. The structures — which housed a grocery store, a hotel or boardinghouse, a commercial clam processing shop, a barbershop and a post office before 1950 — have been declared unsafe by the fire marshal.
Nevertheless, some residents contended that allowing selectmen to destroy the dilapidated buildings would amount to taking by eminent domain. Resident Peter Davis suggested that if Kelsey decided to take the issue to court, it could result in onerous legal expenses lasting for years.
On the other hand, several people argued that the buildings pose a hazard to any youngster who might venture onto the property. In addition, they said that if a fire started in one of the buildings, it easily could spread and cause major damage to surrounding houses.
The issue was resolved at a special selectmen’s meeting Friday night, when Kelsey said he wanted to oversee work to save some of the buildings.
“You’ve got me over a barrel,” he told selectmen.
Kelsey agreed to a strict timetable to alter some structures — including the hotel, clam shop and old post office — by the end of the summer, and remove or move others by July 30. Another house, he said, will be made available within a month to burn as a training exercise for the Fire Department.
As he signed several forms to guarantee compliance, Kelsey agreed the town would have the authority to destroy the buildings if he does not meet the timeline.