2014-11-21 / Front Page

City nuisance house considered

By Duke Harrington
Contributing writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland City Council decided Monday to put off legal action against the owner of a Willard Street property, accused of creating a public nuisance.

Under a process enacted in 2012, any 10 property owners who live within 500 feet of an offending neighbor can force the city to correct unsafe conditions by signing a petition. Under the ordinance, a declaration of a public nuisance by the council can draw fines from $100 to $2,500 per day if the homeowner does not correct the problem.

In June, 15 neighbors, including some renters, complained that for the past six years, Mary Giggey of 29 Willard St. has burned household trash, including plastics, in her home fireplace. This, they said, “releases noxious fumes causing the air quality in our neighborhood to be a major health hazard.”

In August, Giggey denied burning anything by wood. Plastic bottles found in the fireplace during a 2013 home inspection, she said, were mistakenly placed there by her husband, who had recently had a stroke. At that time, citing lack of evidence, the council agreed to put off a decision until November.

Since August, neighbor’s admit, the “noxious fumes” have faded away.

“She’s been very good,” said Willard Street resident Ann Thomas, on Monday. “Life there has changed tremendously for me. I can open my windows. I can work in the yard.”

However, Thomas urged the council to keep the matter active, to ensure that Giggey does not relapse into alleged past practices.

“I’m afraid if we have to do this again I’m going to have to go through this all again,” she said, noting that media attention of the conflict created a public relations “nightmare” in the neighborhood.

“Who knows but that when this all dies down she might begin doing it again,” Thomas said. “It was extremely difficult to get signatures from the people in this area.”

However, Mayor-elect Linda Cohen pointed to parliamentary hoops at play with Thomas’ request. If the council voted to postpone the matter indefinitely, it could not readdress the issue for one year, she said. However, while it could bring the item back at any time simply by pulling it from Monday’s agenda, doing so would mean starting back at square one, which would mean submission of a new petition, along with repeated workshops and public hearings.

“It would seem a shame if we withdrew it and three months from now a problem arose,” said Councilor Tom Blake.

Instead, the council voted to table the issue until its Dec. 15 meeting, allowing time for City Attorney Sally Daggett to present a set of courses on how best to proceed.

“We’d just like our options laid out in front of us,” said Blake, adding, “I don’t think it should be an easy process to come forward and get your neighbor on a city council agenda.”

The public nuisance petition has been employed twice before. Earlier this year the council took action against the owner of a Mildred Street home, accused of pumping affluent from a broken basement sewer line into the street. That issue ended up in court. In 2013, the council reached an agreement with a Wythburn Road resident, requiring that he clean up construction materials from an ongoing renovation project, along with other refuse, from his yard. On at least two other occasions residents have presented nuisance petitions to the city, but those issues were abated before events got to the public hearing stage.

The council voted 7-1 Monday in favor of the postponement.

Only Councilor Michael Pock raised a hand against the delay, saying he was ready for an immediate vote declaring that there was no public nuisance to correct.

“I am under the impression this was a completely trumped-up charge,” he said. “We couldn’t prove she did it, we couldn’t prove she didn’t do it.”

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