This Cottage Street building is the subject of at a public hearing set for Oct. 16. Concerned residents wrote to the town council to say that the structure is unsafe. PHOTO COURTESY OF PETE BONO

Hearing set for derelict building

BAR HARBOR — The public will have a chance to weigh in on the future of a vacant Cottage Street building at a public hearing scheduled for Oct. 16. The town council voted last week to schedule a public hearing about the 79 Cottage Street property, and notify the owner of the meeting.

Five concerned Bar Harbor residents, who also serve on the design review board, signed a letter earlier this year to the council asking them to take action on the building they described as “dangerous.”

According to Bar Harbor resident Pete Bono, one of the signers of the letter, the building “is in violation of Subsection 2-A of Maine Statute Title 17 that defines a building to be dangerous because it’s a ‘hazard to health or safety because of inadequate maintenance, dilapidation, obsolescence or abandonment; or is otherwise dangerous to life or property.’”

The building is owned by the Pelletier family, doing business as St. Sauveur Development Corporation. The building is on the market, with the vacant lot next door, for a combined price of $995,000 as a commercial property.

Even though the building is derelict, the property is worth more with the building than without it. That’s because 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 a buyer 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.

Councilor Matthew Hochman placed the item on the agenda, and introduced it for discussion saying, “I think if [concerned citizens have] taken the time to send us their concerns on this, I think it behooves us to hear those concerns and to take them very, very seriously.”

Councilor Paul Paradis expressed his concern that the issue was discussed in a design review board meeting, but that the board members wrote as private concerned citizens. He also doubted whether the town council had the authority to act on the issue. “It should be reported to the Code Enforcement Officer,” he said.

Town Planner Janna Richards explained that Bar Harbor’s Land Use Ordinance doesn’t currently have a property maintenance code. The Code Enforcement Officer cannot issue violations based on a building being structurally unsound.

However, state laws do give towns a way of dealing with potentially unsafe buildings. Richards said that according to state law, the council can hold a public hearing and order a structural inspection to determine if the building is unsafe.

Paradis said if the structure comes down, then the property owner “loses some property rights,” referring to the grandfathered exception from the setback rule. Councilor Stephen Coston agreed, stating, “This is a product of our messed-up Land Use Ordinance.”

Councilor Joe Minutolo asked, “If [the owner] took down that building, left the foundation and just capped it over, would he still get to build a structure with the current setbacks?” That way, Minutolo reasoned, both the town and the property owner would meet their goals of taking down a potentially unsafe structure and preserving setbacks. Richards said she didn’t know, but would look into it.

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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