WINSLOW — The Town Council got a look Monday night at a far-reaching ordinance aimed at forcing property owners to clean up abandoned and dilapidated buildings in town.

Some councilors suggested that the ordinance was too comprehensive for Winslow’s purposes and went beyond the goal of getting a handle on abandoned properties.

“At first glance, it feels like overkill,” said Council Chairman Gerald Saint Armand.

Councilor Ken Fletcher was the most vocal in his criticism of the proposed regulations, stating that its level of detail would make it unenforceable.

“We’d need five code enforcement officers to show we were consistently applying the standard,” Fletcher said.

But Councilor Benjamin Twitchell, who sponsored the ordinance, said that it clearly needed detail in order to have traction.

The 40-page proposed ordinance is modeled on the international property maintenance code used by cities and towns across the U.S. It would put in place detailed regulations for owners of vacant and abandoned buildings, rental apartments and non-residential structures and give the code enforcement officer broad authority to force owners to comply.

Owner-occupied single and two-family homes would not be required to comply with the regulations.

The town currently does not have an ordinance to address the condition or safety of buildings or to force property owners to maintain, fix or demolish unsafe structures, Code Enforcement Officer Dabney Lewis said in an interview Monday.

He frequently gets complaints from tenants about the substandard conditions of their rental units, Dabney said. A number of buildings with fire or structural damage have been left unattended and are unsafe, and many bank-acquired properties have been left vacant for extended periods of time, he said.

But without a town ordinance, he is forced to work through the state court system to address these issues, which is a lengthy and expensive process. Even trying to make contact with the owner of a building can take months, he noted.

“There’s always a way to enforce,” Dabney said, “but sometimes it’s difficult to go through the channels.”

Last year, the Town Council looked at a similar ordinance, but decided that it was not detailed enough and asked the planning board to propose a different set of standards. The board finished its review and forwarded the document to the town council last month, according to Town Manager Michael Heavener.

The proposed ordinance includes standards for areas outside the building, interior and exterior structural conditions, materials such as concrete, aluminum, wood, masonry and steel, rubbish and garbage, pest elimination, occupancy limitations, plumbing and sewage, sanitation, electrical systems and fire safety issues.

It would give the town’s code enforcement officer broad authority to inspect properties, give property owners notice if they are in violation of its terms and determine a time line for them to come into compliance with the order. The regulation would also authorize the code enforcement officer to order emergency evacuations from unsafe buildings and order the demolition of structures.

If property owners did not comply with the notice, they can be held responsible for a civil offence. Violations of the code can be prosecuted within the limits of state law. Owners would also have 20 days from being issued a notice to appeal the decision.

Dabney noted that the international property management code is a document recognized by courts, giving it enforcement weight, but acknowledged that it might not keep the town from bringing litigation against a violator.

“I’m not saying we won’t end up in court using this process,” he told councilors.

The council tabled the item until its April meeting. At that time, the council could have a joint workshop with the planning board to go over the proposal, Saint Armand suggested.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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