AUGUSTA — City councilors expressed concerns Thursday about accepting the donation of a dilapidated vacant State Street apartment building.

City staff members recommended the city accept the donation of 11 State St., from its current owner Anthony Thomas, and demolish it and an adjacent, also uninhabitable, building at 15 Morton Place, and combine the lots into one potentially marketable vacant lot.

The four-unit apartment building at 11 State St. was ordered vacated by the city code department in 2012 because of building code violations including an unsafe, dilapidated front deck structure that is the only way to get to three upper-level apartments. It has been vacant ever since.

The back deck and stairway structure of the State Street building, according to Rob Overton, a city code enforcement officer, is in such poor condition it appears to be held in place by the adjacent building at 15 Morton Place.

The city already owns the adjacent property at 15 Morton Place, according to Matt Nazar, development director, having taken it for nonpayment of taxes.

Nazar said the city considers 15 Morton Place a dangerous building that is not salvageable. He said the city already plans to tear it down.

So Nazar recommended city councilors accept the donation of 11 State St., tear that down, too, and make one potentially more marketable combined lot.

However, councilors expressed concerns about that proposal Thursday night.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said the city should have an asset search done on Thomas, the owner and potential donor of the State Street building, to see if the city could seek a judgment against him or find some other way to get him to contribute to the cost of demolishing the building. She said the city should be careful not to set a precedent of providing owners of dilapidated buildings with an easy way to get rid of them and avoid demolition costs, by donating them to the city.

Overton said he ordered Thomas to repair or remove the building but Thomas told him he didn’t have the money to do so. Thomas offered it to the city instead.

Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said Thomas is 23 years old and paid taxes on the property since he bought it, but he got in over his head with the State Street building and couldn’t complete the repairs to it.

At-Large Councilor Mark O’Brien said the city also should have a title search done on the building before accepting the donation, to make sure there aren’t liens on the property.

City Manager William Bridgeo said staff would consult with the city attorney on both the asset search and title search questions. He said depending on the results of that consultation, the city may delay a council vote on accepting the property. But he said if those issues are settled councilors could vote on the proposal as soon as next week’s business meeting.

Nazar said the 11 State St. building is unfit for habitation because of the same building codes that resulted in its tenants being ordered out for their own safety in 2012. It has been vacant for five years and, Nazar said, the cost to repair it “is beyond what is financially viable for the property.”

He said in a memorandum to councilors if the city doesn’t accept the donation, “the likely outcome is that we will eventually have to declare it a dangerous building as it continues to deteriorate, take it at that time, and tear it down.”

Bridgeo said accepting the donation and tearing the building down could be a simpler process for the city than, if Thomas walks away from the building, the city declaring it a dangerous building, tearing it down, and placing a lien on the property, or filing a lawsuit to try to recover the costs of demolition.

He said demolition of both buildings will be costly, “because there is asbestos all over the place in both these buildings.” He said the city would seek bids on the cost of both asbestos removal and demolition of the structures.

The State Street property is assessed, by the city for tax purposes, at $60,800. The three-story, brown-and-green building was built in 1885.

Overton said its interior was mostly gutted by its previous owner and has since been vandalized, with most of the copper piping stolen, and it has numerous code problems, including a lack of secondary exits, and would need a monitored fire alarm system because of its height.

Thomas bought the property, for $20,000 according to city assessing records, in 2014. The previous owners, Kenneth and Penny Oullette, bought it in 2006 for $145,000.

The red and brown four-unit vacant building at 15 Morton Place is assessed at $85,100, and was built in 1900, according to city records.

Bridgeo said the building has been “a problem child” for years, it’s a fire trap, and the bank that owned it walked away from the property.

The two buildings touch each other, with the back decks of 11 State St. touching the rear wall of 15 Morton Place.

Overton said the back deck of 11 State St. probably would collapse when 15 Morton Place is razed.

Bridgeo said it would thus be easier to remove both buildings at once. He said by tearing both down and combining the vacant space into one lot, it could give the city a piece of land it could sell where somebody could put decent housing.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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