BROOKS, Maine — After about an hour of sometimes heated debate Monday night over whether to accept the gift of a dilapidated property in the middle of town, when the votes were counted at the Brooks special town meeting, residents discovered they were deadlocked.
With 36 in favor of accepting the gift to 36 against, the question of the gift has not yet been settled, and the Board of Selectmen will likely discuss next steps during a regular meeting.
“The town’s divided,” said Selectman Arthur Butler after the meeting had adjourned.
The former Delmont Clark property is a large, ramshackle structure with attached barn that is located on a .75-acre lot at the intersection of Routes 7 and 139. It has been vacant for several years, although Russell and Andrea Read purchased it from Clark’s heirs with the intention of developing it in some way.
The Reads are relocating to Kuwait, and when they offered the house to the selectmen, the board did not wish to make a decision without hearing from town residents.
On Monday night, they heard an earful from the folks who packed the Brooks Firehouse.
Some suggested accepting the house and then putting it out to bid, with the hope that a buyer with deep pockets might turn up. Others said that Brooks already has too many abandoned properties — the shuttered grocery store is being sold at foreclosure auction this fall — and the town should take the opportunity to prevent the home from sinking further into neglect. Still others said that their principles and their pocketbooks disagreed with accepting the home, which was often described as a white elephant, as a gift.
“What I hear is that a private citizen owning a private piece of property is almost trying to dump it on the town,” one man said.
Resident Duke Simoneau agreed.
“No one is going to take a 6,000-square-foot lead and cat crap contaminated property,” he said. “The deep pockets are trying to hand it over to you.”
But real estate broker Judy Brossmer warned the town against inaction.
“It seems to me we need to have some control of what happens on that corner,” she said. “If the town starts looking like it’s falling down and a ghost town, it’s going to hurt every one of our properties.”
After the meeting, Butler said that the Reads have apparently had an appraisal of the home done, but the town has not yet seen the results of that.
Residents discussed the possible costs, dangers and problems of tearing down or burning an old building that surely has lead paint throughout. They talked about liability, should one of the flapping shutters fly off and hurt someone.
“Why should the town take on a risk or a gamble?” one man asked.
But Betty Littlefield, the president of the Brooks Historical Society and a lifelong resident, argued passionately in favor of accepting the home.
“I love this town and I love the old buildings,” she said. “I have to pay taxes, just like the rest of you, and they go up all the time. And I’m a widow. But it’s a shame to tear that down. It just needs to be saved, somehow.”