2018-01-11 / News

Saco officials undertake city’s ‘dangerous’ buildings

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


A house at 113 McKenney Road in Saco was demolished in November after the chimney collapsed and the roof began to cave in. Under Maine state law, the structure was then considered a dangerous building. Rehabilitation was not an option due to the extent of the damage. The code enforcement office reached out to the family that owned the house and the two parties agreed to a repayment plan for the cost of the demolotion, as opposed to the city seizing the property in court. (Courtesey photo) A house at 113 McKenney Road in Saco was demolished in November after the chimney collapsed and the roof began to cave in. Under Maine state law, the structure was then considered a dangerous building. Rehabilitation was not an option due to the extent of the damage. The code enforcement office reached out to the family that owned the house and the two parties agreed to a repayment plan for the cost of the demolotion, as opposed to the city seizing the property in court. (Courtesey photo) SACO – The city demolished a vacant and dilapidated building, without going to court, as part of an ongoing program to address aging and blighted structures.

The house was located at 113 McKenney Road and the property is still owned by the Tweedie family. Under Maine law the house was considered a dangerous building because it was, “structurally unsafe, unstable or unsanitary; constituted a fire hazard; unsuitable or improper for the use or occupancy to which it was put; constituted a hazard to health or safety because of inadequate maintenance, dilapidation, obsolescence or abandonment; or was otherwise dangerous to life or property.”


Contractors that demolished the house in November will return to the property in spring to plant grass. As long as the Tweedie family continues to pay taxes and the payments on the demolition they will own the property. Assistant Code Enforcement Officer Don Fiske said the family did not have plans for the land yet. (Courtesy photo) Contractors that demolished the house in November will return to the property in spring to plant grass. As long as the Tweedie family continues to pay taxes and the payments on the demolition they will own the property. Assistant Code Enforcement Officer Don Fiske said the family did not have plans for the land yet. (Courtesy photo) Assistant Code Enforcement Office Don Fiske said that a chimney had collapsed, which had also served as a support structure for the house.

“Once that chimney came down, it was apparent to us the building had sat there unoccupied,” he said. “Now we had by definition a dangerous building that had to be contended with.”

Fiske began working with the Tweedie family in spring 2017 to discuss demolition of the building. Fiske said the family had vacated the building suddenly, about six years ago after a medical emergency. The city couldn’t demolish private property without permission, so instead of seeking an order to do so in superior court, the city placed a lien against the property for the cost of the demolition, $12,000, which the Tweedie family will repay.

Members of the Tweedie family declined to comment for this story.

“Our position has always been that it’s better to expend the funds that are normally spent for attorneys and court costs toward resolving the problem,” said Director of Code Enforcement Richard Lambert. “It’s a good investment to address the situation with money instead of paying for attorneys and courts to litigate this thing; no one wins at that point. We don’t like taking our citizens to court. We will if we have to, but we’d rather solve it in a cooperative way.”

“There’s always a degree of skepticism when the local government has to take action against a property of one of its citizens,” Fiske said. “If we can avoid that and work together, that is what government should be on a local level, cooperative effort shared by all. The cost to the city is virtually nothing at this point.”

“Just our time we’ve invested, but that’s our job,” Lambert said. “That’s what we get paid to be here for.”

Lambert said the cost of litigation in court could have been between $2,500 and $5,000.

The McKenney Road home, built in the 1800s, was demolished on Nov. 13. Fiske said he expected more wildlife, such as raccoons, to be present but only a single porcupine was in the area of the home. Fiske said there was no other evidence of any animals living in the abandoned home.

“There were quite a few family members present on the day of demolition,” Lambert said. “It was kind of like a funeral.”

The family still owns the property the house was built on, as long as they continue to pay taxes and the lien payments. The property is assessed at $82,900 and the annual tax payment is $1,606. Fiske did not know what the family’s plans for the land are yet. The property will be raked and seeded for grass this spring once weather allows, the cost of which is included in the demolition.

Lambert said he has a spreadsheet of properties, first compiled under the previous city administrator, that lists neglected and dangerous buildings in the city. He said demolition is a last resort for properties that have fallen into disrepair.

“We’re trying to capture buildings before they fall too far by the wayside, before they’re not salvageable anymore,” Lambert said. “If we can get them addressed before that point, that is actually one of our goals.

“We don’t like to see buildings demolished if they can be rehabilitated. We don’t want to remove valuable housing. Right now the housing market is very tight. We don’t want to get rid of a building that has the capacity to take care of people as they’re safe. We want to have safe buildings for people to live in and live next door to.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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