Penobscot County may be able to buy old YMCA rather than take it by eminent domain

Posted March 20, 2017, at 12:12 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2017, at 5:17 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Penobscot County commissioners will hold a hearing Tuesday on whether it is in the public’s interest to take the former YMCA building by eminent domain to ease overcrowding at the jail but will not vote on the matter unless negotiations with the mortgage and lien holders fall through.

“We would take the matter under advisement in case we needed to take a vote later if something is not resolved and we are not able to acquire the property voluntarily,” Commissioner Peter Baldacci of Bangor said Monday.

The hearing will be set up like one before a legislative committee with proponents speaking first, followed by opponents and neutral parties, he said.

Before the commissioners voted last month to set Tuesday as the day for the eminent domain hearing, the estate that owns the property had accepted an offer from the county to buy it, but the bank that holds the mortgage refused to accept it, Baldacci said last month.

The original mortgage on the property was for $1.3 million, but it has not been determined how much is still owed to TD Bank.

Commissioners have declined to say the amount they agreed to pay for the property or how much they expected renovations would cost.

Currently, the building is in violation of Bangor’s fire code, Jeremy Martin, director of code enforcement for the city, said Monday. As a result of an inspection last week, it was discovered that the sprinkler system was never completed and fire separation walls were not installed, he said.

A list of items that need to be addressed is expected to be given to the owner by the end of the week, according to Martin. He did not say how much time the owner would be given to correct the violations before the city takes action.

The county, which would submit a new plan for building renovations if it acquires the property, would not be responsible for fixing the current problems but would have to comply with the city’s building codes, Martin said.

The building is owned by the estate of William Buxton, who bought the property in 2013 with plans to open a denturist school. He later abandoned those plans and died in 2016.

Current tenants, who have conditional occupancy permits are CityReach Church and Young’s MMA, a martial arts gym, Martin said.

The Rev. Bobby Bledsoe, who founded CityReach three years ago, said last month that his congregation would oppose the county taking the building. He also said that the church had offered to pay $800,000 for the property but has not said why the sale did not go through.

Efforts to reach Bledsoe Monday were unsuccessful.

“We are very invested in the building and the community,” he said last month. “We have put about $200,000 in renovations into the building. It is being used for the betterment of the community.”

Bowman Constructors of Newport obtained a lien on the property on Nov. 3, 2015, according to information filed in the Penobscot County Registry of Deeds.

If the commissioners vote to take the building by eminent domain, the county would become its owner. The only thing left to fight about would be whether the county’s offer was for the “fair market value” of the property, according to Baldacci, a Bangor attorney. The price paid for the old YMCA but not its ownership could be contested.

Baldacci said last month that tentative plans include moving the current cramped jail intake area, nonviolent female inmates and the holding cells for inmates in jail fewer than 72 hours into the former YMCA, once it is remodeled.

Baldacci estimated that the cost of building a new jail would be more than $40 million and that the cost of boarding out inmates because of overcrowding at the jail was expected soon to cost between $1 million and $1.5 million per year.

“We have a population crisis here,” County Administrator Bill Collins told the commissioners last month. “Today, we have 186 inmates — 163 males and 23 females. Forty-seven of those are boarded out with 28 at the Cumberland County Jail [in Portland] at a cost of $70 per day, per inmate.”

The Penobscot County Jail is a 157-bed facility, Sheriff Troy Morton has said.

 

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