Nuisance property vote postponed in South Portland
SOUTH PORTLAND — While saying they were unhappy about eight years of construction work on Craig Patterson's Wythburn Road home, City Councilors on Monday decided to wait until at least July 1 before deciding if it is a public nuisance.
The postponement of the order allows Patterson, his lawyer Michael Vaillancourt and city Code Enforcement Director Patricia Doucette to create an action plan to complete expansion of the home at 119 Wythburn Road while also cleaning up the property and an adjacent one at 125 Wythburn Road, owned by Patterson's mother, Nataleen Patterson.
“This should have been a workshop item that should not have come this far,” Councilor Michael Pock said. “I feel this should be completely stopped right now.”
The councilors, Vaillancourt, Doucette and Patterson discussed conditions at the properties for almost 2 1/2 hours Monday at the first public hearing held to declare a residential property a public nuisance, with the potential for an abatement order and court ordered fines for noncompliance.
Doucette prepared almost 120 pages of photos and copies of letters she sent Patterson since 2005 about accumulated scrap metal and lumber, leaves and tree limbs in the back yard, allegedly abandoned vehicles and the lack of progress on his home expansion. A building permit for the expansion was first granted in 2005 and renewed in 2011.
On May 3, Doucette asked councilors to schedule the public hearing and determine if the properties meet the revisions to the city ordinances citing safety and health hazards of a nuisance property. If councilors agree the nuisance exists and issue an abatement order to clean up the properties, court-ordered civil penalties for noncompliance would range from $100-$2,500 per day with a cap of $5,000.
Mayor Tom Blake was among the first to express discomfort at making the nuisance determination because he envisioned the ordinance change enacted last fall would allow abutters a stronger voice in getting neighborhood problems solved. About 30 neighbors did petition Doucette in May 2012 to declare the property a nuisance, but the petition was submitted before ordinance revisions were enacted.
Among neighbors who spoke, nuisance was in the eye of the beholder.
Carl Dimow, who lives next door to Craig Patterson and his family, saw nothing for councilors to consider.
“We have absolutely no issue with their house and property. I respect them, they respect me. I don't consider it a nuisance of any sort,” he said.
Craig Patterson, 53, was raised at 125 Wythburn Road and bought his home next door in 1989, according to city tax records. Those who asked councilors for action to speed up the home expansion and property cleaning said they had no problems with the Patterson family.
"They are great neighbors, quiet, their kids are awesome. I'm kind of concerned on time frame of construction being done,” Kirkland Avenue resident Scott McLeod said.
Wythburn Road resident Scott Day said he worries about home values in the neighborhood because of visible conditions at the Patterson properties. He also said he has had to clean his property routinely of storm runoff that flowed downhill from property owned by the city and the Pattersons.
“It is looking better up there, but there has to be some kind of a time frame,” Day said. “I think eight years is long enough that we've had to put up with looking at a mess.”
Vaillancourt, Craig Patterson and Patrick Linehan, an Oakland resident who has helped Patterson with interior and exterior work over the last month, said conditions are quickly improving and Doucette has overstated the hazards in her documentation.
“I was a little overwhelmed, but I saw this as a doable project,” Linehan said about landscaping including a new lawn and wooden fence along the road, coupled with flooring and beam work inside the expansion.
Vaillancourt presented councilors with photos of the work on the property and a timeline of completed work and work in progress. The action plan calls for completing the front wall and installing windows, while finishing roofing work above the existing house by Dec. 1.
While discussing progress already made, Vaillancourt also dismissed some of Doucette's assertions about the hazards, including the accumulation of leaves and tree limbs behind the Patterson home.
“Where I grew up, this is called the woods,” he said.
The entire process offended John Hough, who lives at the corner of Wythburn Road and Mardale Avenue. Saying he had never met the Pattersons, he said he wanted to “heartily apologize” because of complaints from neighbors. He also asked why no social service agencies had been alerted to the hazards Doucette and neighbors say exist on the Patterson properties.
“Property taxes are what we pay so we will be left alone by society,” Hough said.
An amendment submitted by Councilor Jerry Jalbert to the motion declaring the public nuisance sought Sept. 1 and Dec. 1 deadlines for work to ensure the entire house was weathertight for winter. Meeting the deadlines would ensure councilors would not seek an abatement plan or civil penalties.
Jalbert said the deadlines would not solve all the issues raised by Doucette and neighbors, but would show progress while understanding Patterson's property rights and financial ability to complete the work.
Councilors finally decided to postpone a decision, but to keep their timeframe short so Doucette, Vaillancourt and Patterson can move forward.
“I think this is a tough one, there is obviously an attempt here,” Councilor Linda Cohen said.