Demolition of house explored

Charlotte Rhoades house (1)SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The town is formally asking the Sierra Club to allow the demolition of the old, rundown house at Charlotte Rhoades Park and Butterfly Garden.

Mary Coates gave the house and property, formerly owned by Charlotte Rhoades, to the town in 1970. The deed stipulates that the first floor of the two-story house must be used for “municipal purposes” and that the town may rent out the second floor.

If the town fails to use the house as required for more than a year, the deed states that the town “will sell the house together with the parcel of land upon which it is located and pay the net proceeds to The Sierra Club Foundation.”

The town’s Conservation Commission, which is responsible for maintaining the house and garden, has rented the second floor to a residential tenant for a number of years. It rented out the first floor as office space until about 18 months ago.

Jim Geary, former chairman of the Conservation Commission, and town manager Don Lagrange have said the house is in such bad shape that it should be torn down.

“There are a lot of problems with this building,” Geary told the board of selectmen a few months ago. “It needs more money than is worth putting into it.”

One of the many problems with the house is a perpetually wet basement.

“There’s actually kind of a stream that flows through it,” Geary said.

He said the conservation commission would like to replace the old house with a smaller structure that has a meeting room, a restroom and storage space for garden tools. But the deed, as currently written, won’t allow that.

Sierra Club Foundation officials have said they have no interest in the house and would be willing to release the town from the requirement to sell it if it is no longer used for municipal purposes.

Last week, the selectmen authorized Lagrange and the town attorney to submit a revised deed for the foundation’s consideration. The proposed new deed states that the town may remove the existing house and replace it with a new structure. It also stipulates that the town would not have to put the new building to any specific use, but must use it for “municipal purposes consistent with the use of the … Charlotte Rhoades Park.”

If Sierra Club Foundation officials sign off on the revised deed, town attorney Lee Bragg said the town might still need to go to court to make it legal.

“But I am hopeful that this step could be avoided by having the [Maine] Attorney General’s office give its approval,” he said in a memo to Lagrange.

The house’s residential tenant was notified late last year that she would need to move out, but has continued to live there.

“I have sent notice to the tenant to quit the premises,” Lagrange told the selectmen last week. “Because of the condition of the building, I don’t think we should be renting it out to anyone.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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