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Possible road closure could help Fort Kent auto dealership destroyed by fire rebuild

Courtesy of Kathleen Hafford
Courtesy of Kathleen Hafford
Flames shoot from the roof line as firefighters tackle a fire at Valley Auto in Fort Kent on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012.
By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

FORT KENT, Maine — Owners of Valley Auto, the General Motors dealership destroyed in an Oct. 3 fire, are hopeful the community will back a plan to discontinue a section of roadway so they can rebuild downtown.

A proposal to discontinue a section of Elm Street, which had bisected the downtown parcel occupied by the dealership before the fire, will be decided by Fort Kent voters next month.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29, at the town office, according to Town Manager Don Guimond, with the issue to go before voters at a special town meeting about two weeks later. The exact time and date of that meeting have yet to be set.

The 90-year-old building occupied a prominent spot in Fort Kent’s downtown area and its loss has left a massive hole where it once stood.

Owners Carl and Pat Theriault said from the beginning they would like to rebuild on the original site, but also said space constraints did have them looking at larger plots of land around town.

“That was really one of the primary issues,” Theriault said. “If we rebuild on that spot we wanted to close down part of Elm Street.”

Safety is the big reason for pushing to close the street, Theriault said.

“It was a dangerous situation with an accident bound to happen,” he said. “It always scared the living heck out of me.”

With the dealership’s former showroom, office and repair shop on one side of Elm and parking spaces on the other, there was always fear of vehicular accidents with cars entering and exiting the premises or a serious pedestrian mishap with employees and customers crossing from one section of the property to the other across the road.

The current property encomapses about 68,000 square feet, Theriault said, and he always found it cramped for space, especially when it came to winter and snow removal.

Use of the discontinued road would not only add an additional 16,000 square feet, it would allow him to rebuild in the middle of that expanded lot with more efficient use of space.

“The town council seems to like the idea,” Theriault said. “And people I talk to in town seem to like it.”

The road would be discontinued from the intersection with Page Avenue to Valley Auto’s western property line.

“We are moving ahead with this in case Carl decides he does want to rebuild there,” Guimond said. “It will stop being a road and when a road is abandoned [the property] goes to the abutters on both sides [and] Valley Auto is the only abutter affected by this.”

Elm Street would no longer be a through street, but Guimond said traffic would flow using Hall and Pearl streets.

“It will no doubt be an inconvenience for some folks but will also help some folks,” he said. “Drivers will find a traffic pattern that will work.”

Theriault is hopeful the proposal will work out, adding that if not, he has several other options available for relocation.

“But there is really good traffic flow there,” he said. “I’d hate to leave that spot, it’s one of the best places in town for exposure.”

Meanwhile, Valley Auto’s sales, administration, parts and service departments recently have taken up residence in a garage at 599 Caribou Road adjacent to the so-called “old drive-in.”

The auto body shop is now housed in a garage at the former Southside Auto on South Perley Brook Road.

“We just moved from our temporary, temporary location at the [Lonesome Pine] Ski Tow while our permanent temporary place [on Caribou Road] was under reconstruction,” Theriault said Wednesday afternoon. “We plan on being here for around six to eight months.”

Referring to the newest temporary location on Caribou Road, Theriault said, “We did have to clean this whole place. It had once been a Mac Truck dealership and there were 40 years of logging parts laying around.”

Since it had once been a dealership, it already had areas for a service shop, parts, office space and a bathroom.

“It’s a little tight for what we do,” Theriault said. “We have 18 employees crammed into where they had five, but we will make it work.”

Rented trailers are being used for storage space, he added.

Despite the swiftness and devastation of the fire, Valley Auto was up and running — albeit on a limited basis — within a day thanks to the efforts of scores of community members who rushed into the already burning building to rescue inventory, computers and important files.

“There is no way in hell we would have been back this fast if not for all that help,” Theriault said. “If we had lost the computers and the files we’d be looking at another month, easy.”

Replacing the tools lost in the fire took a bit more time, but Theriault said General Motors has been very helpful and supportive.

“It’s gone as smooth as it can go,” he said.

Valley Auto’s number remains the same at 207-834-3191.

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