AUGUSTA — City councilors declared four buildings to be dangerous Thursday, voting to order the building owners to demolish them within 60 days, or else the city may step in and demolish them and bill the owners for the cost.

City officials say they’ve worked unsuccessfully for years to try to get the building owners to repair the structures, or tear them down voluntarily.

If the owners don’t take action within 60 days, the city could have the structures demolished and bill the owners for the cost. Kristen Collins, an attorney for the city, said if the owners then don’t pay the bill within 30 days, the city then could asses a tax bill for the work. She said if that bill isn’t paid in two years, the city could foreclose on the properties and “for better or worse, the property would become the city’s.”

One of the buildings, at 118 Civic Center Drive, stands visibly at a major gateway into the city, across from a restaurant and between the entrances to the University of Maine at Augusta and the Augusta Civic Center.

Matt Nazar, the city’s development director, said the city took enforcement action against the owner of that building two years ago, and the owner’s attorney said at the time the building would be torn down, but the blue building remains standing, if just barely.

“I’m surprised it’s still standing, after this winter,” said Rob Overton, the city code enforcement officer who inspected all four buildings, said of 118 Civic Center Drive. “The entire building is about to fall down.”

The building’s interior was damaged by a 2014 fire, which Overton said was caused by a squatter.

There is also other evidence including empty beer cans, a mattress and a propane heater that someone was squatting at the home, and its foundation walls have collapsed into the basement, causing the structure to collapse. The basement is full of water

The building, according to city assessing records, is owned by Zi Qian Zhang, of Swansea, Massachusetts.

A dozen Chinese restaurants in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island were owned by a Zi Qian Zhang, of Swansea, Massachusetts, according to previous news media reports and court records.

Nazar said the property, which sits on a roughly one-acre lot, is listed for sale, most recently for $250,000. He said he believes the building was purchased with the intent of building a restaurant there, which never happened.

The other buildings are at 197 Northern Ave., 79 Mount Vernon Ave., and 22 Maple St.

David Fritz, of Gardiner, the current owner of 197 Northern Ave., a long vacant apartment building, was the only owner to attend public hearings at Thursday’s council meeting.

Fritz agreed it is in bad shape and said he intended to demolish it when he bought it two years ago, but he ran into financial problems. He said he will secure the building by the weekend and expects to tear it down in about a month and a half.

Overton said the building has a rear wall that is deflecting outward and the roof above that wall is collapsing. Also, doors and windows are broken or missing, leaving the building unsecured; the building is infested with mold; and the roof is leaking in multiple locations, causing portions of the ceiling to collapse.

Fritz said in two or three years he hopes to either build something there or sell the vacant lot.

“I wish you luck. We hope everything goes well for you,” Mayor David Rollins said. “That’s what we want.”

Overton said the city inspected the building after a tenant complaint in 2014, and found safety code violations and a heating system that didn’t work. Tenants were ordered to vacate the building, which at the time was not owned by Fritz.

The commercial building at 22 Maple St., according to Overton, is unsafe for any type of occupancy because it is structurally unsound as a result of a collapsing south wall, is missing doors and windows, and is adjacent to a large concrete retaining wall that is leaning heavily and in danger of falling. It is owned by Eugene Green, of Augusta.

The property at 22 Maple St. in Augusta, seen Tuesday, is among several buildings that city councilors declared dangerous Thursday and ordered to be torn down. Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

Nazar said about one-third of the building is actually on the neighboring property, a former steel recycling yard.

Nazar said those three building are considered dangerous in part because their foundations or walls are so deteriorated they could collapse and possibly fall onto someone.

The fourth dangerous “building,” at 79 Mount Vernon Ave., is a covered-over foundation. The cap over the foundation has rotted to the point that someone could fall into it and be injured, Nazar said. The cap was placed on the foundation after a fire destroyed the upper levels of the building about 15 years ago. The cap has since rotted, no maitenance has been done, and portions of the concrete block foundation are falling into the basement.

The foundation interior contains junk and garbage including discarded furniture, mattresses and televisions, which Overton said may be helping to prevent it from collapsing.

“I think this probably would have completely collapsed had the basement not become a dumping ground for the entire area,” Overton said. “I do not believe this building, or a portion of this building, could be saved.”

That property, city records indicate, is owned by Thomas Harville, of Skowhegan.

Nazar said the city had repeated contact with the owners of the properties to try to get them to address the conditions of their buildings before declaring them dangerous buildings.

Councilors voted 6-0 to declare each building a dangerous building.

“It blows me away that people don’t take care of their buildings,” said Ward 3 Councilor Harold Elliott. “They must not have a conscience.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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