Burned Cumberland home to be demolished; state asked to reduce speed limits
CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday approved the demolition of a burned-out house on Valley Road, appeasing residents who were concerned about the safety of the structure.
Councilors also discussed an ordinance that could allow residential windmills and authorized a request to the state that speed limits on Orchard, Bruce Hill and Whitney roads be lowered.
Several neighbors spoke Monday in favor of the town demolishing the home at 74 Valley Road, which burned in February. Homeowner Rhonda Coppersmith is currently serving a 27-month sentence for embezzling more than $400,000 from Vessel Services in Portland. Coppersmith pleaded guilty in June.
A tax lien on the property went toward paying down the mortgage rather than repairing the property, according to town officials. Another lien will be taken on the property to cover demolition costs.
It was reported by the Fire Department in February that the garage had burned and the home was mostly OK, but according to Operations Director Chris Bolduc, who recently examined the property, damage to the building from the fire and the home's subsequent abandonment are severe:
• A large part of the home's roof has collapsed.
• There was substantial damage to the home's walls, one of which is almost entirely gone.
• Many windows have been damaged and some have fallen from their frames.
• Little remains of the garage, other than some framing.
• The structures have not been secured and are subject to further damage from weather, and nothing prevents people from entering.
• An in-ground pool is empty and the fence that surrounded it (which is required by law) no longer stands.
Because the building is no longer inhabitable and the owners can't afford to fix or demolish it, the town has issued a demolition order. The structure will be demolished within 45 days of the order, unless another interested party comes along within 30 days. Several other parties have stakes in the building, including Vessel Services and the mortgage holder.
Bolduc said no one has stepped up to claim the property because "it's more of a liability than an asset," with $4,000 in back taxes due in addition to the dangerous building.
The council voted unanimously to ask the Maine Department of Transportation to lower speed limits on Orchard, Bruce Hill and Whitney roads to 30 miles per hour. While the roads were previously marked at 30 mph and 35 mph, MDOT recently reposted all three with limits of 40 mph and 45 mph, with no advance notice to the town. According to Town Manager Bill Shane, MDOT claimed the roads had been improperly posted at the lower limits.
Upset by the increased speeds on the curvy, hilly, rural roads, Shane brought the matter to the council. He and Council Chairman Ron Copp recently drove Bruce Hill Road at 45 to 47 miles per hour.
"It is not safe," Copp said.
The town has not been pleased with the response to previous speed limit reduction requests, with a request in 2007 leading to a speed limit increase on Greely Road. But Councilor Jeff Porter said this case is different.
He said the limits posted are "so egregious, I don't feel there's any downside in sending this (to MDOT)." Porter said he doesn't expect MDOT will approve the town's request of 3 mph, but hopes the limits will be reduced to no more than 35 mph.
Several citizens also spoke in favor of the request, all concerned that the narrow roads with poor sight lines are inappropriately posted. All said they are pleased by the town's recent posting of advisory signs, which post the roads at 35 mph because of "congested areas." The signs have been effective, they said, though the Police Department has reported they're difficult to enforce because they're advisory.
Shane said he expects an MDOT review in the spring.
After an hour-long workshop, the council decided it needed more information on windmills before it could send the Planning Board a possible ordinance allowing them.
Most councilors seemed in favor of allowing residential windmills – with restrictions – but wanted to know more about what those restrictions would be.
Resident Brad Hilton, who hopes to put a turbine on his 30-acre property, asked that rather than spend months working on a wind power ordinance, the town would simply add language to suspend a 35-foot height limit in the case of wind turbines. Doing so would allow turbines like his to go up, and based on their successes or failures, could help inform a future ordinance.
Councilors, however, felt it will be safer to take a proactive, rather than reactive, position on the towers, which can be 100 feet tall. They opted to take their time developing an ordinance.
"We're not going to discourage this, but we need to have more meetings," Copp said.
A workshop will be scheduled in September with the council, the Planning Board, and the Cool Cities Committee. Councilors said that if they decide to move forward there will be a Planning Board public hearing in October.
Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.