Bath council deems home unsafe, seeks options for occupants

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BATH — The City Council voted 7-1 Wednesday that a dilapidated home on Windjammer Way is dangerous, but tabled a decision on what to do about the house and its two occupants.

The occupants of 45 Windjammer Way, Alan and Yvonne Orchard, were scheduled to meet with city staff Friday, Dec. 7, to see what options they have. The City Council, meanwhile, plans to discuss the matter again on Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Codes Enforcement Officer Scott Davis, who deemed the house dangerous, said he inspected it with structural engineer Helen Watts on Sept. 26. He stated in a report that the house’s foundation footing has settled; its rear joints rest on wet soil; “variable settlement” has caused some parts of the floor sheathing to be unsupported, and a main support beam supporting the joists at the center of the house has failed.

A blue tarp covers a large hole in the roof, Davis reported, and roof framing around that tarp has failed, “with missing sheathing, failed sheathing bowed between remaining rafters, and rotted rafters with parts of the rafter missing.”

Davis also found the house is out of plumb.

“The building code specifies that the code official shall notify the owner of an Unsafe Structure to make repairs to the structure or demolish it,” Davis told the City Council in a Nov. 29 memo. “I’ve written (Yvonne) Orchard several times in recent years, instructing her to make the needed repairs, but the repairs have not been made. I have grave concerns for the safety of the occupants of this building, particularly about the roof collapsing when loaded with snow.”

He added that the council has the power to determine the fate of such a structure, and that he believes the house should be vacated until repairs are made and the building is made safe.

If those repairs are not made, he said, the home should be demolished.

“I agree the house is bad,” Alan Orchard, 81, said Wednesday. “We have tried to find a place to go. We don’t have money; that’s what stops everybody from doing something.”

Orchard, a former carpenter, said he knows the structure of the house and is isn’t worried about its integrity.

Ward 6 Councilor David Sinclair, who voted against calling the house dangerous, asked Orchard if he felt at all unsafe in the home. Orchard said he did not.

“We don’t have any problem living in there,” Orchard said, noting that he and his wife had lived in the house for 26 years, and that it leaned long before they bought it.

“I like to get along with everybody, but I don’t like to have anyone step on me,” he said.

Yvonne Orchard said she and her husband have approached the Bath Housing Authority, but they were told there is a two-year waiting list for Section 8 housing – government assistance to low-income renters – and a six- to 12-month wait for elderly disabled people.

City Manager Bill Giroux expressed optimism about the ultimate outcome.

“This is the first real indication we have that (the Orchards) have an interest in going to a better place,” Giroux said. “And I hope that we can help them with that.”

Sinclair said the matter should have been brought to the council’s attention long before.

“We just allocated, this evening, $8,000 for holiday lights,” he said. “And those lights are going to shine pretty dimly if they’re shining over a situation like this, that we allow to happen in our midst.”

In other business, the council unanimously granted a liquor license for the Front Street Public House. The new, 102 Front St. venue is the former home of the Black Barnacle, a pub that went out of business earlier this year after drawing complaints from neighboring stores.

In July, the council reversed a June decision and unanimously renewed liquor and special amusement licenses for the Black Barnacle. Police had praised owner Greg Tisdale’s desire to reach a resolution to the complaints.

The council expressed confidence in Public House co-owner Christopher Johnston’s vow to address past issues and make the  new establishment fit in more smoothly.

The council – which elected Councilor Bernard Wyman as chairman and Councilor Mari Eosco as vice chairwoman – also voted 5-3 to end a moratorium on the installation of wireless “smart” electric meters.

Eosco and Councilors Sean Paulhus, Carolyn Lockwood, Leverett Merrill and Andrew Winglass voted to end the moratorium that has existed since June 1, 2011. Councilors Steve Brackett, Meadow Rue Merrill and Sinclair wanted to maintain the ban, based on concerns about the wireless network’s impact on residents’ health.

The moratorium, which has been extended twice, required Central Maine Power Co. to obtain approval from customers before it installed the new meters. Under more recent rules approved by the state Public Utilities Commission, customers may opt out of smart-meter installation, but must pay CMP to do so.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.