BREWER, Maine — A local company that turns recycled shipping containers into modular buildings has resolved a disagreement with the state and is now licensed to build housing, but it will likely move its business to another location, according to its owner.
Chad Walton, SnapSpace Solutions Inc. president and CEO, learned in August his company was not licensed to build housing units when the company was hired to build a home in Glenburn. Walton received a letter from Assistant Attorney General Christopher L. Mann saying the company needed to be licensed by the Manufactured Housing Board.
SnapSpace has received the license, Tim Feeley, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, confirmed Monday.
The state’s Manufactured Housing Board, which is operated under the Office of Professional and Financial Regulation, issues licenses to companies that build or sell them and sets inspection standards. The housing board initially worried that the homes built from the shipping containers would not be inspected, which is done by an independent third-party inspector for all manufactured homes, Feeley said.
Since the container homes are retrofitted inside the factory and then assembled onsite, the housing board decided that “the code enforcement officer from wherever they end up will do the inspection,” Feeley said Monday.
SnapSpace has been retrofitting old shipping containers for new uses, from offices and storage units to bunk houses, concession stands and restrooms, since it opened its doors in Brewer in early 2011 at the former ZF Lemforder plant. Walton is the principal owner of the property under Akten Business Park LLC.
The 125,000-square-foot building, associated parking lots and a gazebo are valued at approximately $3.45 million and Akten Business Park LLC has just over $34,000 in taxes currently outstanding, according to the city’s tax collector. Other past-due taxes were paid by the company’s bank, according to officials in the city’s assessing department.
A lender-ordered auction for the Akten property at 55 Baker Boulevard is set for 11 a.m. Jan. 21, said Mike Carey, vice president of Tranzon Auction Properties, which is hosting the auction.
“It’s our intention with every property we sell to connect tenants with the new owners,” Carey said.
Current tenants of the building include SnapSpace, Twenty 2 Vodka and another company owned by Walton, Turbine Specialist LLC, which does metal finishing of turbines.
“The reality is that we just bit off more space than we really needed,” Walton said about the sale of his property in a statement released Wednesday.
Walton said he’s currently looking for a smaller space in the Bangor area or in South Carolina to manufacture the modular buildings. When asked if the recent difficulty with the state had any part in his decision to move, he responded, “No comment.”
“We wish him well in the future,” D’arcy Main-Boyington, Brewer’s economic development director, said Monday. “We will be present at the auction. Four or five different companies have shown interest in the building.”
The year SnapSpace opened, it applied for a license through the manufactured housing board but never completed the application process, Mann said in his letter, adding that if SnapSpace wanted to build and sell homes, it should complete the application and become licensed, which it has now done.
“It took us four months jumping through hoops we shouldn’t have had to,” Walton said. “Welcome to doing business in Maine.”
Walton contends that the shipping container houses are more like stick-built homes and didn’t fall under the manufactured homes rules, but even so, he finalized the paperwork to make the state happy.
The home the Glenburn man is interested in buying “has been sitting here ready to go for ages,” Walton said. “Here we are Dec. 21 — four months later — and he just got his building permit.”
The Glenburn code enforcement officer “came here and inspected it and approved it” and the homeowner got his building permit on either Friday or Monday, the business owner said.
“Once he has the concrete poured, we could have it done within three days after that,” Walton said. “That is the great thing about using these. Once the groundwork is done, it’s irrelevant what the weather is. Hopefully, they’ll get the concrete poured this week.”
The residential home will be SnapSpace’s first, he said. The company has helped design and build at least one house boat, as well as temporary bunk house buildings for logging companies to use along the Golden Road, along with other applications.
Walton said that SnapSpace is now licensed “to produce and market its line of small residential homes made with repurposed ocean containers.”
Walton said the building sale has little to do with the operations of SnapSpace.
“SnapSpace is fine, we are paying all of our bills and fully expect to continue producing structures involving ocean containers,” he said in the released statement. “In today’s economy it’s a given that the demand for compact, highly efficient and affordable living space will only go up.”