AUGUSTA — City councilors voted Thursday to accept the donation of a dilapidated State Street apartment building and spend up to $30,000 to purchase another on Bridge Street in an effort to improve the neighborhoods.

The city already owns properties next to both the 11 State St. and 115 Bridge St. properties councilors on Thursday agreed to acquire. City Manager William Bridgeo recommended acquiring both of them to try to improve the properties themselves, as well as the neighborhoods that surround them.

The city will tear down the 11 State St. property, and the run-down building next to it at 15 Morton Place, which the city acquired after the previous owner failed to pay property taxes. The plan is to combine the adjacent lots into one property and look to resell what will be a larger lot.

The plan for 115 Bridge St. isn’t so clear.

Bridgeo said the city staff doesn’t have a specific recommendation for what the city should do with 115 Bridge St. or the property it already owns next to it at 117 Bridge St. He said the Augusta Housing Authority has expressed some interest in acquiring them but has not committed itself to do so. He said the city could tear down one or both of the buildings and seek private developers to build something new on one or both of the adjacent properties, and return them to the tax rolls.

He said the urgency to act now comes from the possibility that 115 Bridge St., which is listed for sale for $35,000, could be bought by someone else. He and city councilors said there has been drug dealing at those locations, the properties are blighted, and improving them could improve the whole neighborhood.

“Even knowing we don’t have an absolute plan, the reason I like (the proposal to purchase 115 Bridge St.) is it helps rehabilitate an area that could use some help, potentially,” said At-large Councilor Corey Wilson. “I think if we are to go the route of tearing them down, we combine those lots and we build a nice duplex home in that area that has a nice facade, that looks nice. It helps bring that area up as a whole. And I think that’s a benefit to the city. Because as you do these types of projects in those neighborhoods, it does increase the value of those neighborhoods. It makes the rents in that area go up so you then potentially push out some of the bad types of things that happen in those neighborhoods.”

Councilors voted 6-1 to authorize Bridgeo to spend up to $30,000 to buy the property. Bridgeo said the city has an agreement, which was contingent on councilors’ approval, to buy it for $28,000.

At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien, who voted against the proposal, said he did so because of the lack of details on what the city might do with the properties.

Councilors voted 5-2 to accept the donation of the State Street property, from its owners Anthony Thomas and Le Nhu Truong, with Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti and Ward 3 Councilor Harold Elliott, the two dissenting votes, expressing concerns that accepting the property could set a precedent and become a way for building owners who fail to maintain their buildings to get rid of them.

“I don’t believe I can vote for this because of the fact I don’t want to put the taxpayers of the city of Augusta on the hook for taking down buildings that somebody cannot be responsible for,” Elliott said. “I also believe we may be setting precedent by doing this. What does a person have to lose by neglecting their building if they owe nothing on it and they walk away and we’re stuck with taking it down?”

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 since then.

Other councilors agreed that the city staff’s recommendation to accept the “gift” of the property and demolish it and the adjacent Morton Place building and combine the lots into one would be in the best interest of city taxpayers. They also said it is a unique situation that shouldn’t set a precedent.

“This property would have an adverse impact on the property the city already owns,” newly sworn-in At-large Councilor Jennifer Day said. “So unilaterally, I wouldn’t always say this is a good idea, but in this specific circumstance I think it is.”

Bridgeo said the State Street building’s rear multilevel deck has come off that building and is leaning against 15 Morton Place. He said both buildings are firetraps that could be attractive to squatters, and they are safety hazards. He said the city would save money by demolishing them both at once. Also, he said if the city doesn’t take the State Street property, it probably could end up acquiring it anyway because the current owner can’t afford to fix it up.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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