South Portland councilors call for 1st hearing on 'nuisance' properties
SOUTH PORTLAND — A Thornton Heights homeowner said he is working hard to clean up his Wythburn Road yard and complete home renovations, but he will have to present his case to the City Council at a June 3 public hearing.
Craig A. Patterson, 53, of 119 Wythburn Road, became the first city homeowner to be called to a public hearing to face possible civil penalties for having a "nuisance property."
City Councilors voted Monday night to call the hearing.
"Trying to do things by yourself takes a long time, but anyone who drives by here can see things are getting done," Patterson said Wednesday at his home.
Conditions at the adjacent 125 Wythburn Road home, owned by the Nataleen A. Patterson Family Trust, will also be discussed at the hearing. Nataleen Patterson is Craig Patterson's mother.
Last October, City Councilors revised the ordinance governing "Nuisances in General" to redefine what constitutes a nuisance property and allow councilors to issue an abatement order for a cleanup.
Civil penalties for noncompliance with the order are in accordance with Maine law, and range from $100 to $2,500 per day with a cap of $5,000.
In their sunlit front yard Wednesday morning, Craig and Victoria Patterson explained efforts they have made, including removing scrap lumber and mounds of dirt, and repainting a boat trailer described as "deteriorating" by city Code Enforcement Officer Patricia Doucette.
"We'd be happy to work on any specific thing, if anyone has a specific issue," Patterson said. He added he was expecting a loam delivery so he could plant a front lawn.
Doucette, who last fall asked councilors to strengthen the nuisance ordinance, requested the public hearing because conditions have not improved despite letters and property inspections in the last two years.
The ordinance allows city department heads or officials to make a complaint, or for at least 10 property owners living with 500 feet of an affected property to present a petition seeking a hearing.
About 30 residents of Wythburn Road, and nearby Kirkland and Herford avenues, signed a petition received by Doucette on May 1, 2012. It said “we feel the property borders on being a 'public nuisance.'”
In a council workshop on the ordinance revisions last September, Wythburn Road resident Scott Day and former Kirkland Avenue resident James Wallace supported the added enforcement and claimed Patterson was ignoring orders to clean up his property.
Patterson said he grew up in the home at 125 Wythburn. He bought the 119 Wythburn Road property in 1989, according to city tax records. In 2005, he was granted a variance by the city Board of Appeals to build a 960-square-foot addition to the home.
Patterson received a building permit in June 2005. He planned to expand the house over the footprint of an old garage and adjacent workshop where a former owner once built radios.
Files kept by Doucette indicate she began receiving complaints from neighbors in 2011, six years after the building permit was issued.
On July 11, 2011, she sent a letter to Patterson.
“It does not appear that you have started or completed any of the work proposed back in 2005,” Doucette wrote, adding the building permit had expired and needed renewal before Patterson could continue work.
In her letter, Doucette said she had to inspect the property and wanted to work with the Pattersons "to bring the properties up to applicable safety standards.”
Victoria Patterson said the couple also received an anonymous letter at that time saying their properties were preventing neighbors from selling their homes. She said she visited two neighbors she knew were trying to sell homes and both denied writing the letter.
The Pattersons said no neighbors have spoken to them directly about the situation.
"I want to be in good standing with my neighbors," she said. "I want my kids to be proud of where they live and where they come from. I don't know how to start a dialogue that is not fueled by hostility."
After getting no response to her July letter, Doucette sent the Pattersons a letter on Sept. 13, 2011, warning of possible legal action.
Patterson said his mother's health problems and flooding at her home next door led to delays in the work at his home. He said he and his wife also objected to Doucette's demeanor.
"She has shown up here without any warning at all," he said. "To me, that is not OK."
By early April 2012, Doucette was also warning Patterson about conditions at 125 Wythburn, where a shed in disrepair needed immediate removal, and a junked motor and camper trailer sat in the yard.
After receiving the petition May 1, 2012, Doucette asked South Portland Deputy Fire Chief Steve Fox to accompany her on a property inspection, but said she hoped to "avoid that public display" of a hearing.
Patterson renewed his building permit June 19, 2012, and began building an addition on the side of his house. He has shingled much of the roof over the addition and has timbers to frame and build the rest, which is now open to the elements. In a March 11 email to Doucette, he vowed to have walls enclosed and the roof finished next month.
Patterson also said winter weather inhibited work to clean up debris and refuse in his yard, noting he got a letter from Doucette on Feb. 7, just before a nor'easter struck.
In his March response to Doucette, Patterson disputed allegations his property was unsafe.
“There is nothing on either property that is a sanitation, fire, or health or safety risk to us or any neighbors,” he said.