December 15, 2018
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Brewer business ordered not to build homes out of shipping containers

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Chad Walton (right) is the owner of SnapSpace Solutions in Brewer. His daughter, Kelsey Walton, is the vice president .

BREWER, Maine — The state attorney general’s office has warned a Brewer business that repurposes old shipping containers not to build or sell any units intended for housing because it doesn’t have a license to do so.

SnapSpace Solutions Inc. has been retrofitting old shipping containers for new uses, from offices and storage units to concession stands and restrooms, since it opened its doors in Brewer in early 2011 at the former ZF Lemforder plant.

“It has been alleged that your firm is attempting to site/locate a one or two family dwelling (manufactured by you) in the Bangor/Brewer area,” Assistant Attorney General Christopher L. Mann wrote in an August cease and desist letter to SnapSpace. “Please be advised that manufacturing or selling a manufactured home is engaging in unlawful unlicensed practice.”

The letter states that for every family dwelling manufactured by SnapSpace without a license the company could be subject to a $10,000 fine. It also could face criminal charges. It doesn’t prevent SnapSpace from pursuing any projects that aren’t intended to be residences.

Chad Walton, SnapSpace president and CEO, said Wednesday that no one from the state reached out to him to discuss concerns, and the first he learned of it was when his attorney forwarded him a copy of the strongly worded cease and desist letter.

The licensing fees are minimal, maxed at $200, but licenses come with costs needed to meet the rules and requirements of that license.

SnapSpace’s position is that it doesn’t require a manufactured home license because each of its projects, whether a conversion for an office or a house, is treated and designed more like a stick-frame structure instead of a prefabricated modular unit.

“We’re just using the container as a shell,” Walton said.

Inside, the insulation, utilities and other features, including outside appearance, are built to meet the needs of the individual buyer, Walton added. SnapSpace argues the state laws regulating manufactured homes are geared toward companies that produce modular homes on a larger scale in a more cookie-cutter, assembly line process.

Walton said he’s confident the state’s concerns will be cleared up after his attorney, Edward Russell, speaks with the state. Russell did not return a message requesting comment Wednesday.

The cease and desist letter does not prohibit the company from working on any shipping container conversions that won’t be used for housing.

Mann said in a phone interview Wednesday that Glenburn’s code enforcement officer reached out to the state last month when he received a site development plan that would have put a SnapSpace family home in Glenburn. The code enforcement officer went to the state because he was unsure about the restrictions or requirements with such a home, Mann said.

The Maine Manufactured Housing Board, under the Office of Professional and Financial Regulation, oversees manufactured housing in the state, licenses companies that build or sell them and sets inspection standards.

SnapSpace applied for a manufacturing license through that board in 2011 but never completed the application process. The state lists that license as “pending.” Mann said that if SnapSpace wants to build and sell homes, it could complete that application and become licensed to do so.

“Clearly, that’s what they should do if they want to move forward with this,” Mann said.

Walton said members of the board visited SnapSpace headquarters in 2011 and discussed licensing options, but both he and board members at the time agreed that what SnapSpace was doing shouldn’t require the state license.

“We think this is a nonissue,” Walton said.

Walton declined to give details about the Glenburn housing project that sparked the state letter but said all his company’s projects are carefully designed and engineered to meet International Building Code standards, as well as local codes and ordinances.

It’s unclear how many, if any, such modular homes SnapSpace has built or sold. Walton declined to say whether there were any. The company has helped design and build at least one house boat, as well as temporary lodgings for logging companies to use along the Golden Road.

The state has issued an announcement seeking information from communities about any SnapSpace residential projects in their town.

“If we found out they did, we’d be doing more than a cease and desist letter,” Mann said Wednesday.

Walton expects the disagreement will be cleared up when his attorney speaks with the state and the housing board.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.


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