HALLOWELL — Embattled antiques dealer and property owner Robert Dale is back in the public eye, as the city plans to inspect his cluttered Water Street properties for damage following years of disputes with local officials.

Dale’s properties at 152 and 154 Water St. came up during Monday’s City Council meeting, when Code Enforcement Officer and Interim City Manager Doug Ide said he would be inspecting the buildings soon, but had not scheduled a time.

Dale’s also-cluttered Fairfield property has been the subject of a court order that forced its clean-up, but Fairfield Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said that the clean-up effort has been stonewalled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Looking into Dale’s Water Street properties from the sidewalk, passersby can see a number of lamps and other household objects inside the building. The northernmost building is labeled “antiques.” According to city tax documents, the buildings at 152 and 154 Water St. are assessed at $181,400 and $208,300, respectively.

Lamps and antiques inside the Brass and Friends store on Water Street in Hallowell, owned by Robert Dale, are seen Wednesday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

A memo from Ide presented to City Councilors earlier this month said that he has been in “regular contact” with Dale, who has committed to repairing the buildings’ roofs and moving the merchandise out of the buildings and moving it into box trailers at his property at 386 Skowhegan Road, or U.S. Route 201, in Fairfield.

The memo said Dale is waiting for the weather to warm up before he begins work at the property, adding that he had “no doubt” that Dale could perform the work once he begins.

Dale could not be reached for comment this week. He was not present at his Fairfield property around noon or 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

The exterior view of the Brass and Friends store on Water Street in Hallowell, owned by Robert Dale, is seen Wednesday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Ide said the inspection was requested by Row House Inc., a Hallowell group looking to preserve the city’s historic buildings.

“There was some concern that there might be some active water leakage,” Ide said. “I don’t think that’s the case at all.”

Row House President Larry Davis said Tuesday that he advised the group’s board of trustees to write a letter asking for the inspection, which fits into their overall mission.

“We wanted to make sure they got in there and took a look around,” Davis said. “If the building is to fail, (the city is) going to have to take some hard action.”

Ide said there is “definitely” water damage in the building, but did not know of any active leaks. Ide said Dale has patched the roof before. Ide said there is no running water, heat or electricity in the building currently, and Dale is up-to-date on his property tax payments.

Ide said the city does have the authority to go in and make repairs to the property, with the cost being billed to Dale. Ide said the city is opting to shepherd Dale toward doing the work himself, as it would be a large undertaking for the city.

“We’d have to store it and catalog it and make sure it’s secure,” he said. “It’s a big job for the city to do the work itself.”

Hallowell officials took Dale to court in 2009 after he violated an agreement that ordered him to raze buildings on Second Street. Dale cleared the property, but the legal action cost the town $75,000.

Robert Dale steps out of his Maine 201 Antiques business on Route 201 in Fairfield on May 15, 2019. Dale also owns the Brass and Friends store on Water Street in Hallowell, which is due to soon be inspected by city officials. Morning Sentinel file

Hallowell officials filed a civil lawsuit against Dale in 2015, seeking the cleanup of the Water Street properties, saying that it was an unlicensed junkyard and violated the city’s solid waste ordinance. Ide said there was solid waste on the roof of the building and on the property on the building’s Front Street side.

Ide said the 2015 matter was resolved but did not know if Dale or the city brought the building up to compliance.

Ide’s memo said that his approach in communication with Dale is to “treat him with respect” and urge him to get the work done, explaining that Dale has avoided communications when “confronted with sanctions.”

“Mr. Dale has expressed a clear desire to unburden himself from his Hallowell properties,” the memo continues, with Ide adding that the cleanup is a big undertaking due to the amount of merchandise inside. “I’ll continue to support him and encourage him as much as I can, while also applying pressure to get the work done.”

In June 2018, Hallowell officials issued a notice to Dale to remove all personal property from his Water Street buildings after city officials deemed the property dangerous. This order gave the city the option to sell or dispose of the property in the building with “no further obligation or liability to” Dale within 21 days of the notice. That order states that the exterior of the building shows” significant deterioration,” a window had fallen out, it had broken doors, a cluttered interior and a blocked stairway.

A spreadsheet of the tasks needed to be completed by Dale shows six of 16 tasks completed or in progress as of January 2021. Ide said the city removed some wooden debris to reduce the level of combustible material in the building.

Dale’s Fairfield property has also been a headache for municipal officials. In December 2019, as a result of a civil suit between Dale and the town of Fairfield for violations of multiple ordinances related to his property, Dale was ordered to abide by a phased cleanup plan and pay $7,792 in town legal fees.

In 2015, Fairfield got a court judgment to force Dale to pay almost $30,000 after he was ordered to clear debris and fix violations at his Skowhegan Road property. In 2016, Dale settled with the town.

On Tuesday, there was no clear pathway from U.S. Route 201 to the property, but one could be forged between stacks of goods arranged in a partial grid.

The 2019 plan breaks the cleaning into 12 phases, which each gives Dale 30 days to clean up a portion of his property. The plan also stipulates for Dale to receive counseling, and if the plan was upheld, Dale’s accrued fines of $89,600, $100 per day from April 17, 2017, to Sept. 30, 2019, would be waived.

Flewelling, the Fairfield town manager, said that plan was designed to take “a great deal of time,” and the cleanup wouldn’t be completed until October 2020. However, the coronavirus pandemic hampered progress on the plan, Flewelling said.

“Mr. Dale said he couldn’t hire someone to help him clean and the pandemic made it an issue that the town didn’t want to take him back to court on,” she said.

Flewelling said town officials in Fairfield are continuing to monitor the plan, which Dale was complying in the early stages, clearing the initial areas of the property and attending counseling. “We had made some great strides in 2019,” she said. “As a matter of fact, at the end of December 2019, he was in compliance.”

Flewelling said the town is not actively assessing additional $100 per day fines for Dale and has asked him to restart the cleaning plan.

“We will work with Mr. Dale,” she said, “because ultimately what we want is for the property to be cleaned up.”

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