ELLSWORTH, Maine — After hiring an attorney to get a second opinion on a local resident’s efforts to stop the planned demolition of a derelict firehouse, the City Council is sending the matter back to the city appeals board for review.
Judy Blood is challenging a decision by Ellsworth’s code enforcement officer to allow Webber Group to tear down the former Ticonic 4 firehouse building it owns on Route 1A. The building is on the site of a former gas station and convenience store the company owned.
But the city board with which Blood filed her appeal did not think it had the power to rescind the permit and referred the appeal to the City Council. The City Council also doubted that it had the authority, but it sought another legal opinion when its lawyers said their firm had once represented Webber Group, creating a conflict of interest.
On Monday, the City Council heard from another lawyer, who said the appeals board does have the authority to rescind a city-issued demolition permit and the City Council does not.
Blood and several others who support her appeal contend that the city sold the property to Webber Group in 2005 for $5,000 with the understanding that Webber would seek city permission for any change in use for the firehouse building, which would include tearing it down.
She said the building, which dates back to the late 1800s, has historical value and should be preserved.
City officials, however, say there is nothing in the deed to the property that prevents Webber from tearing the building down if it wants to do so, despite whatever preservation guarantees the city might have hoped for 13 years ago.
Webber Group President Rick Harnum declined to comment on the matter Wednesday but said the firehouse property is for sale. City officials say that Webber has agreed to hold off on demolishing the building while the city deliberates on Blood’s appeal.
In October, under the advice of Ed Bearor, the city’s attorney, the appeals board decided it did not have authority to rescind the demolition permit. Instead, the appeals board voted to forward the matter to the City Council.
Last month, the elected council then decided to seek a second legal opinion after it was informed that Rudman Winchell, the Bangor firm Bearor works for, previously had represented Webber, which creates a conflict of interest.
On Monday, the council heard from Kate Grossman, an attorney from Farrell, Rosenblatt and Russell in Bangor. She told the council she believes the appeals board does have the authority to consider Blood’s appeal of the demo permit. The elected council, she said, does not.
Grossman also reiterated the council’s position that, without specific language in the deed, the city has no legal authority to prevent Webber from demolishing the derelict building.
“The law is clear,” she said.
If the city eventually denies Blood’s request to revoke the demolition permit, she then would be able to pursue her appeal in Hancock County Superior Court. State law prevents her from taking the matter to civil court without the city first denying the appeal.
Blood told the council she has tried unsuccessfully to contact Webber officials to discuss the matter. She and others who support her efforts will continue to try to contact Webber to see if it may be willing to sell the structure to a charity established for the sole purpose of preserving the building, she said.