BAR HARBOR — The owners of a vacant two-story building at 79 Cottage Street will be required to hire a structural engineer to conduct an inspection to determine whether the building is safe.
The town council voted on Tuesday to require that the Pelletier family, doing business as St. Sauveur Development Corporation, arrange for the a structural inspection of their property. In addition, the owners must secure the property by correcting deficiencies noted by Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain and Fire Chief Matthew Bartlett.
The council also voted to “request” that the owners to fix the property up.
The action was the next step in the process of dealing with the derelict property, which was first discussed by town council after being brought to their attention by concerned citizens in September.
On Sept. 25, the council voted to schedule an inspection of the building, and a public hearing. The inspection was conducted Oct. 4 by Chamberlain and Bartlett, accompanied by Evan Pelletier representing the owners.
“Neither Mr. Bartlett nor I are professional engineers so we did not make any determinations on the structural integrity of the building,” Chamberlain wrote in an Oct. 15 memo.
Chamberlain and Bartlett did identify six deficiencies they wanted to have corrected, including boarding basement windows, covering openings, removing electrical lines and removing items stored in the building.
Town Manager Cornell Knight recommended that the council “direct the owner of the property at 79 Cottage Street to complete all the deficiencies within 30 days, cited in the report.”
But after opening the floor to public comment and discussing the property at length, councilors had other ideas.
“I did take note [in the memo] that neither inspector was a structural engineer,” councilor Matthew Hochman said. “I’m less concerned with the visual than with the structural. I’m still very concerned about the safety of the building itself.”
“It would be nice if the owner would work with the town… just out of respect to the neighbors,” councilor Joe Minutolo said.
Councilor Paul Paradis countered, “Respect for neighbors: I’m not sure the town body can regulate that. We can have a structural engineer look at [the building for safety], but the person who makes that decision in the town is the fire chief.”
Requiring the owners to hire their own structural engineer would “send a message” that the town prioritizes safety, council chair Gary Friedmann said.
“I think that based on the state [statutes], it’s within our realm to ask for a structural engineer if our town doesn’t have that expertise,” he said. “This is a building that has been troubling townspeople since I’ve been on council.”
The roof of the building next door, also owned by the Pelletiers, collapsed several years ago from the weight of snow on the roof. The building was torn down at the request of the fire department, out of concern that it could collapse into the street.
“It’s at the top of my priority list to make sure people’s property rights are respected,” councilor Stephen Coston said. He noted that the owners are in a “tough position” because if they tear down the building, they could lose property rights they now enjoy.
The two-story building predates current ordinances that prohibit buildings of that height so close to the property line. If it were built today, the two-story 1910 structure would have to be pushed back 20 feet from the sidewalk. But an owner who chose to tear down the building and build a new one within a year would be “grandfathered” from such restrictions, making the most of the space.
Hochman asked if the owners could preserve their “grandfathering” if they razed the property but kept the foundation in place.
Chamberlain, who is serving as interim Town Planner, said no. “The height of the building is tied to the setback,” she told town councilors. “If the building loses its height, it loses its setback requirements.”
The motion to require the inspection passed with a 4 to 2 vote. Hochman, Friedmann, Minutolo and Erin Cough voted in favor. Coston and Paradis dissented.