Council delays Wilson Hall hearing

Wilson Hall, a 150-year-old building atop Oak Hill in Bucksport, has fallen into disrepair and town officials are concerned that it poses a safety hazard to the community. The Town Council has called for the owner to secure the building immediately and submit a plan by Sept. 13 to restore it. (NEWS Photo by Rich Hewitt)
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Wilson Hall, a 150-year-old building atop Oak Hill in Bucksport, has fallen into disrepair and town officials are concerned that it poses a safety hazard to the community. The Town Council has called for the owner to secure the building immediately and submit a plan by Sept. 13 to restore it. (NEWS Photo by Rich Hewitt)
Posted Jan. 13, 2011, at 11:24 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:52 a.m.

BUCKSPORT, Maine — Councilors on Thursday for the second time continued a hearing on Wilson Hall because the town has not been able to contact the building’s owner, Aaron Gleich.

Wilson Hall, a three-story, 159-year-old former seminary building, has been vacant for decades and has had little or no maintenance during that time. The town’s code enforcement officer, Jeff Hammond, previously has told councilors that the building’s structural supports are rotting and that it poses a danger to the community.

Thursday’s scheduled hearing was to gather evidence for the town to determine that the building is dangerous or a nuisance under Maine law, one step in condemning the building so that it could be torn down.

Hammond told councilors that the town has not been able to serve Gleich, who lives in New York City, with a formal notice of the hearing. Gleich previously has refused to receive official notices from the town, so the town attorney contacted the sheriff’s office in New York City to have it formally serve Gleich. Hammond said Thursday that he has not been able to get confirmation from the sheriff’s office that the notice has been served.

Hammond said attorneys have suggested that the town could pursue notification by publication using a paper in Maine, but that process requires a court order so it would be time-consuming. The notice would have to appear in the newspaper on three consecutive weeks, he said.

Councilors opted to continue the hearing without taking public comment and Hammond will pursue the notification by publication option.

But there have been several other developments in the case. First, the firm that represents Bucksport notified the town this week that it could not continue to represent the town in this matter because one of its lawyers at one time represented Gleich in an unrelated matter.

Town Manager Roger Raymond told councilors that he has two attorneys in mind who have worked with the town before and that he would contact them to see whether they could provide representation in the case.

Second, on Dec. 17, the town’s tax lien on the property for unpaid taxes expired and Wilson Hall became tax-acquired property for the town. Raymond said he wanted an attorney to review the town’s processes used to place the lien on the property before taking any further action in respect to the building. That, however, will have to wait until the town obtains another attorney to represent it in this case.

“We are being overly cautious,” Raymond said. “We know that anything we do with that building is going to result in litigation with Mr. Gleich. We want to make sure we have all our i’s dotted and our t’s crossed before we move ahead.”

Raymond noted that the town had acquired Wilson Hall for unpaid taxes once before and councilors had returned the property to the owner. He added that although the council generally agrees to give owners the opportunity to recover their tax-acquired properties, they can and have decided to keep properties, both residential and commercial, in the past.

In another development, a historic preservation organization has approached the town about working together in an effort to preserve the building, which is listed on the Maine Historic Register. In 1999, Raymond said that while the town would be willing to work with such an organization, it would have to show it had the resources to do the work needed to make the building safe. The amount of work needed on the building is extensive, he said.

“It would take a ton of money,” he said, noting that the building will have to be gutted, including removing the roof and bell tower, in order to restore it.

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