May 23, 2018
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Bangor may loosen restrictions on rebuilding sheds, garages

By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor residents with rickety, ramshackle garages or sheds that are barely standing — and their neighbors — can rejoice.

In a couple of months, it may be much easier and cheaper to remove and rebuild those eyesores thanks to the work of Bangor Code Enforcement Officer Jeremy Martin and Bangor City Council business and economic development committee members.

The committee unanimously approved a proposal to amend an ordinance in Bangor’s land development code regarding sheds, garages and barns.

“I’m calling this the ‘Theriault bill’ because I was on my back deck watching my neighbor work way too hard to replace a structure that common sense dictates he should have been able to just tear down and rebuild,” said Councilor and acting Mayor Cary Weston. “This may be the greatest ordinance change for residents of this community in my tenure.”

The ordinance previously limited rebuilding of structures because of setback limits.

“If my garage is currently 3 feet off the line and I want to rebuild it, I can but I have to move the whole thing so it’s not over the setback limit,” said Martin. “We have setback requirements so I don’t build my house right up on the line, which can create fire issues, blocking sunlight, and privacy issues.”

The ordinance required structures in urban residence districts to be at least 5 feet from sidelines and rear property lines. In multifamily and service districts, structures must be at least 10 feet from the lines.

The change, which will become law if the full council approves it next Monday night, will allow residents to tear down their sheds, carriage houses and garages — rather than rebuild them in a piecemeal and painstaking fashion.

“You couldn’t build a structure within a certain proximity of a boundary and a lot of these structures were built prior to that zoning ordinance so if you wanted to rebuild one in the same spot, you couldn’t,” said Weston. “You basically had to watch it dilapidate and not do anything about it because another condition was you had to keep 50 percent of the original value.”

Martin, who said he probably averaged two calls a month from residents affected by the wording of the ordinance, said in some cases a structure was so badly damaged or dilapidated that there wasn’t enough left to salvage 50 percent of the original structure, meaning it couldn’t be rebuilt.

“In many cases, the slab a structure’s on has more value than the structure,” Martin said.

Martin said the ordinance change conforms to the spirit and intent of the setback rule while also erring on the side of common sense.

It also provides incentive for homeowners to improve their property.

“We have an older house stock in Bangor and we’re asking people to reinvest in them, but we’re not giving them the tools to be able to do it,” Weston said. “This change allows them to reinvest and increase property values in older neighborhoods.”

One condition was also included in the ordinance. Property owners must rebuild any demolished structures within 12 months of the date of their removal, damage or destruction.

“I think it’s important to revisit common sense ordinances on a regular basis and I’m glad this got some traction and went through,” said Weston. “We’re going to pass it on first reading Monday night, and I think by the time May comes around, we’ll be all set.”

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