BATH — The City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a stricter set of rules governing vacant buildings.
The panel also unanimously amended the Wing Farm tax increment financing district, removing properties Regional School Unit 1 has acquired to build a new Morse High School.
The ordinance on vacant buildings stems from complaints city staff has received, City Manager Peter Owen said July 11, when the council granted the rules first passage.
Although some unoccupied buildings may be owned, and the owners may be paying real estate taxes, the city has lacked an ordinance to deal with them unless they pose a hazard.
Vacant buildings can negatively impact values of neighboring houses, and the ordinance is an effort to address problem properties, Owen noted.
Councilor Phyllis Bailey pointed out that the rules focus on security and safety, particularly for emergency personnel.
Ann White of West Milan Street, who was among the residents that supports the stricter rules, noted her neighborhood has five houses, of which three had been foreclosed upon or abandoned.
“The level of upkeep is pretty up and down; in fact, it’s mostly down,” she said. “Fortunately I’m retired so I can mow a lot of lawns. Not quite what I was thinking of doing with my retirement, but you know.”
Her neighbors’ concern is to ensure the properties “at least have some appearance of being cared for, so as to prevent meth labs, or crack houses, or whatever else from coming in,” White added. “A house that looks abandoned ends up being kind of a trouble spot.”
The city has a registry of about 35 vacant properties, of which eight are the most egregious, with holes in the roofs and plywood on the windows, Davis said. In some cases, the roof is caving in, or a floor is missing, Davis noted.
The ordinance defines a vacant building as being unoccupied for more than 30 days, with the owner or mortgage holders having no concrete plans or timeline for it to be occupied again. Since someone going to Florida for six months in the winter intends to return, their home would not be considered vacant.
Roofs must to be “structurally sound,” and doors and windows “substantially weather tight” to prevent animals like birds from entering. All exterior doors of vacant structures that could pose dangers to emergency responders have to be placarded. Fences, barriers, exterior walls, chimneys, smokestacks, roofs, decks, porches, balconies, signs, awnings, fire escapes and duct work must also be structurally fit.
Owners of buildings either vacant or about to become so would have to provide Davis with the contact information of a person to reach should problems with the property arise. Codes enforcement and fire officers must be able to access the buildings to ensure ordinance compliance, building condition, and any hazards to emergency responders.
In cases of violation, Davis will serve a written notice mandating corrective action be taken within 30 days. Building owners who fail to comply will incur penalties each day they are in violation as well as injunctive relief, in accordance with state statute.
The City Council also approved the amendment of Bath’s Wing Farm/Enterprise Municipal Development TIF district, which was created in 2008 and includes two non-contiguous tracts: a Bath Iron Works parcel and a Wing Farm business park parcel.
The amendment removes a nearly 25-acre parcel from the Wing Farm piece due to its future non-commercial use as a school. The reduction would reduce the district size from about 62.6 acres to 37.7, and reduce its assessed value from $9.3 million to $8.7 million.
The council in October 2016 approved RSU 1’s purchase of the property for $277,500. A new Morse High School is slated to open at the site in fall 2020.
Vacant buildings that have fallen into disrepair in Bath, like this house on Willow Street, prompted the City Council Wednesday to enact stronger rules governing such situations.