May 27, 2018
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Bangor Councilors back proposed ordinance to quell property abandonment

Brian Feulner | BDN
Brian Feulner | BDN
An abandoned home at 82 Smith Street in Bangor, see Aug. 21. A neighbor, who declined to be identified, said the home was inhibiting his ability to sell a property on the street.
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor City Councilors had a lot of good things to say about a proposal to start a vacant properties registry in the city as a step toward preventing the decay of empty residences.

During a Tuesday night Business and Economic Development Committee meeting, Jeremy Martin, Bangor’s code enforcement officer, outlined a draft ordinance that requires property owners to receive a permit through the city before leaving their homes or apartments unattended for 60 days or more.

“Vacant buildings are an impediment to neighborhood redevelopment and rehabilitation, decrease property values and prevent neighborhood stabilization,” the ordinance states. “The structures are unsightly, often structurally unsound or otherwise dangerous, attract criminal activity, and otherwise create a threat to public health, safety and welfare of neighboring properties and the general public.”

Martin said people who live near any of these buildings can attest to those issues.

He said his department receives calls on a daily basis from neighbors surrounding some of the dozens of abandoned and dangerous properties in the city. Responding to complaints about potential trespassing, criminal activity and dangerous or unsightly conditions, eats up a considerable amount of his staff’s time.

Under the proposed ordinance, there is a minimum $250 fee to register your building. If the costs to the city in terms of staff time, materials and other city expenses related to the enforcement of the ordinance at that property exceed $250, the full amount would be charged to the owner. Martin said that fee was typical of other cities with abandoned property registration ordinances.

If the owner wants to leave their property vacant, they also must assign a person or company to maintain it, ensuring that the structure remains sound, the grass is cut, and that it’s secure enough to keep out trespassers. The city also must have up-to-date contact information for both parties.

A placard placed on the building would include the names and contact information of the owner and property manager. Martin said that would inform neighbors and give them someone to call if a problem arose, which would give the owner and manager incentive to address concerns.

Those rules would apply whether the property is owned by an individual, corporation or bank. Martin said that even though the ordinance hasn’t been passed, he’s already received calls from banks who have heard about the potential ordinance asking how to start the process.

Martin said the ordinance is based on similar ones in other parts of the country, including Burlington, Vt., and Chula Vista, Calif.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilor Charlie Longo asked whether there was any way the city could make an exception on the registration fee requirement for members of the military who have to leave their homes for the service. Martin said that wasn’t something city staff considered when drafting the ordinance, but that it could be factored into the final version. The service member likely would still be responsible for assigning a person or company to maintain the property.

The penalty fee for violating the ordinance could range from $100 to $2,500 for each day that the property does not comply, under the state’s land use regulations statute, according to Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas. The costs of not complying would accumulate quickly.

“We have to hold people accountable for some of these properties,” Martin said. “They’ve really impacted neighborhoods.”

Since the Bangor Daily News first wrote about Martin’s ordinance proposal, Martin said his office has been receiving an increasing number of calls from Bangor residents reporting abandoned or dangerous buildings in their communities and asking questions about what the city can do. The city is keeping track of those calls and working on compiling an extensive list of problem properties.

The ordinance could have its first reading before the first council during Wednesday night’s meeting. Councilor David Nealley said he wanted to see the city move ahead with the ordinance as soon as possible. It will need a second reading before the full council could vote on it.

The committee recommended approval of the ordinance.

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