2012-09-28 / Front Page

Council to review nuisances

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Neighbors of this property at 90 Anthoine St. are upset that the city of South Portland doesn’t have the resources at its disposal to force the property owner to clean up. The city council will likely approve a stricter nuisance ordinance at its meeting Monday, Oct. 1. (Jack Flagler photo) Neighbors of this property at 90 Anthoine St. are upset that the city of South Portland doesn’t have the resources at its disposal to force the property owner to clean up. The city council will likely approve a stricter nuisance ordinance at its meeting Monday, Oct. 1. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — A few frustrated South Portland residents have about reached a boiling point with their neighbors, and City Manager Jim Gailey said city staff members “don’t have enough tools in their toolbox” to help.

That may change soon, as the South Portland City Council appeared to unanimously agree to strengthen the city’s nuisance ordinance to allow Code Enforcement Officer Pat Doucette to take a firmer stance with homeowners whose unkempt properties affect their neighbors.

Mayor Patti Smith said the council will likely hold a vote for the amended nuisance ordinance at the Monday, Oct. 1 meeting, although Doucette and Sally Daggett, corporate counsel, are still working the exact language of the ordinance.

The proposed ordinance language in front of the council included “failure to keep waste, refuse or garbage in an enclosed building” in the definition of a nuisance, as well as “the outdoor storage of any worn out, broken or worthless item, trash, debris or refuse on site for more than 15 days.”

Daggett also suggested a petition process in which residents could bring a complaint to City Council. If the council determined a property is a nuisance it could then issue an order for abatement, then bring legal action if the order is not complied with.

Residents at the council workshop on Monday, Sept. 25, had particular problems with two properties in the city. One is located at 90 Anthoine St. on the corner of Columbus Avenue, the other across town at 119 and 125 Wythburn Road.

The council originally focused its efforts on including language that would specifically allow Doucette to take action to prevent health and safety hazards, but after hearing complaints from the public about eye sores that affect property values, the scope of the conversation broadened.

Real estate brokers April and Lenny Tracy, who live on Gary L. Maietta Parkway but own a property on Columbus Avenue, said they have not been able to sell their property because of the state of the neighbor’s yard.

“It’s been on the market two weeks and everybody loves the house,” said April Tracy. “They just say they’d never live in this neighborhood because of that house (at 90 Anthoine St.). I don’t know if I can sell a house on that street at all.”

“It’s frustrating when the only feedback we can get is, ‘Your house is immaculate, I’d buy it tomorrow. But we just can’t beyond the neighbors,’” added her husband.

Residents on the west side of town had similar complaints about the Wythburn Road property.

Scott Macleod, a neighbor on Kirkland Avenue, called the property on Wythburn “a dump,” and said nothing has changed in the 19 years he’s lived in the area.

James Wallace sold his house at 22 Kirkland Ave., but said he heard similar complaints as the Tracys. Potential buyers couldn’t get over the problem of their new neighbor’s messiness. Wallace said realtors told interested buyers to take a route to the house that would avoid 119 Wythburn, and estimates he lost about $10,000 on the final selling price.

All the residents praised Doucette for her efforts to help, but said they felt her hands were tied by the current ordinance. Doucette agreed. She handed out pictures of the properties to councilors to illustrate her point. Lawn chairs, trash bins, boxes and various other items are stacked in the yard of the 90 Anthoine St. property. On Wythburn Road, residents said gravel and debris run down from the property to the neighbors’ when it rains, and the place is a “total disaster.”

“This isn’t something I take lightly. It’s not something I want to bring to council on a regular basis. But I don’t feel that anything I have in the ordinance right now helps me with the types of situations you see in the pictures before you,” Doucette said.

Section 16-3 of the current ordinance declares it illegal to have an “uncovered well, cistern, cellar, dangerous hole or excavation” that could cause injury or affect public safety, and section 16-2 covers automobile graveyards and junkyards, but Doucette said she needs more teeth in the language of the ordinance.

“I tried to bluff my way through, but in a lot of these cases it’s not working properly. I’d really like to have something I could take, put in a letter, and say, look this is what you have. You’re violating this ordinance, if you don’t fix it, this is what’s going to happen. I need to have something like that,” she said.

Daggett cautioned the city council against defining what is useless versus what is valuable, because “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” but she did say the threats of a court order and hefty fines are usually effective in convincing neighbors to clean up their mess.

“That’s the hammer that you have,” Daggett said. “Courts threaten fines quite a bit but they don’t often award them. The first thing we want is the property owner to clean up the property.”

The city council agreed it wanted to stay out of the business of regulating what’s valuable and what isn’t, but there was also unanimous consent that the nuisance ordinance should be strengthened.

Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis said the problems between neighbors are becoming more frequent as the population rises, and the language of the ordinance needs to help staff address that.

“As our city is becoming more and more dense, we’re coming closer and closer to one another. It does necessitate us to look more closely at these things. We’re going to get more complaints because we are just a fence away,” De Angelis said.

“I want this thing to have some teeth and I don’t want to be playing these games,” said Councilor Maxine Beecher.

She then looked at the group of upset residents in the audience and said, “And I don’t want to live in the neighborhood with you guys.”

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