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Portland orders demolition of Washington Ave. building; owner expects a lawsuit

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Portland orders demolition of Washington Ave. building; owner expects a lawsuit

PORTLAND — The owner of a roofless and windowless building on Washington Avenue has been ordered by the city to demolish the structure.

"It is a public safety hazard," said Penny Littell, the city's director of Planning and Urban Development. "For several years we've been dealing with this."

Littell sent a letter to building owner Alec Altman in August, saying the building has been deemed dangerous and must be torn down. 

Altman's attorney, David Lourie, said his client agrees that the building needs to be demolished, but disagrees that under the housing replacement ordinance he must pay $150,000 for the three apartment units that at one time existed in the building.

"There haven't been (residential) units in there since the '80s, the best we can tell," Lourie said. He said his client should be exempt from the ordinance, which requires property owners who remove residential units from peninsula housing to either replace the units somewhere else in town, or pay about $50,000 per unit.

He said his interpretation of the ordinance is that an exemption can be made for the 6 Washington Ave. property.

Littell flatly disagreed. She said while the city can't force Altman to post a $150,000 bond for replacement of the apartments, the city can stop him from redeveloping the site until he complies.

Altman is a co-owner of Binga's Wingas and at one time had plans to open the restaurant in the Washington Avenue building, which used to contain a dry cleaning business. Lourie said Altman no longer has plans to open a restaurant there, since Binga's has found alternative locations on Free Street and in Yarmouth.

"The plan is to use it as a parking lot when it comes down," Lourie said. "The city might not allow that."

City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, whose district includes the property, said he has heard from several constituents who are concerned about the building's appearance and potential safety hazards.

"It's apparent it is time for direct enforcement," Donoghue said. He said the East Bayside Neighborhood Organization, the Washington Square Condominium Association and residents who live in a neighboring building are among those who have contacted him.

The building is at the corner of Washington Avenue and Congress Street. Altman has owned it since 2006 and tried to redevelop the property a few years ago. It was damaged by fire a couple of years ago, according to Littell, and afterward the roof and windows were removed. Passersby can see through the building's walls and through the roof.

Littell said Altman has proposed several redevelopment options to city staff over the years, but has not followed through with any of them.

"It needs to come down," Littell said. "The elements, rain, snow, birds, have made it not salvageable."

Littell gave Altman a 30-day deadline for demolition, but the issue has been tied up while attorneys for the two sides negotiate. In a letter dated Sept. 11, she extended the deadline to Oct. 1 because Altman notified her that an abutter may be interested in purchasing the property. 

The City Council is now expected to take up a demolition order for the property at its Nov. 2 meeting. Littell said the city can either go through the council, or take Altman to court.

Lourie said his client wants to tear the building down, but not without a court order or a resolution from the council exempting him from the replacement housing ordinance.

"It will probably end up in a lawsuit," Lourie said.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net