BUCKSPORT, Maine — Town councilors Monday initiated the next legal step to ensure the town’s claim to the Wilson Hall property on Middle Street.
The building, once part of the former seminary property and now listed on the Maine Historic Register, has been vacant for decades and has fallen into disrepair to the point that it is in danger of collapsing. The town’s lien on the property for unpaid taxes matured last year and on Dec. 18, the building and the land it sits on became tax acquired by the town.
Town Manager Roger Raymond stressed that the main concern at this point for the town is safety.
Raymond told councilors that legal counsel Diane O’Connell of the Patterson Law Office has outlined three options for the council to consider. According to Raymond, those options are: to sell the building by bid with the condition that it be removed within a specified time; allow the former owner, Aaron Gleich, to redeem the property and then file a dangerous building claim in court; or seek to “confirm” or “perfect” the town’s title to the property in court.
Councilors chose the third option, which, Raymond said, would resolve any questions of prior claims to the property from Gleich or anyone else. The town has anticipated that Gleich will at some point contest the town’s acquisition of the property for unpaid taxes. The process of perfecting the title would have the courts review any potential claims on the property and resolve any questions regarding the town’s procedures in acquiring Wilson Hall.
If the courts ruled that the town had erred and could not clear the title, they could still pursue a complaint in court against Gleich for maintaining a dangerous building, Raymond said. There is a possibility that the two issues could be presented in court at the same time, but Raymond said attorney O’Connell was still researching that possibility.
Having a clear title to the property would allow the town to move ahead to demolish the building or to convey it to a potential buyer with a warranty deed, rather than a simple quitclaim deed. The quitclaim deed, Raymond noted, only indicates that the town is simply releasing any interest it has in the property.
With the title confirmed, he said, the town can assure a potential buyer that the property is clear of any other claims.
“This has been an ongoing issue; we’ve been dealing with it for years,” Raymond said. “It has gotten to the point where there is a high probability that the building will have to be torn down. It’s a safety issue.”
Councilors agreed and voted unanimously to move ahead with the process of perfecting the title to the property. Councilor David Kee raised the issue of notifying Gleich of the process, which, he noted, has been a problem in the past.
According to town officials, Gleich has repeatedly refused service of certified notices from the town regarding the property. Raymond noted, however, that Gleich has accepted, and responded to, notices sent via regular mail. Though not considered legal notification, Raymond said, a letter notifying him of the town’s intentions likely will elicit a response.
Meanwhile, he said, the town also will pursue notification through publication in area newspapers as it has done in the past.