WATERVILLE — The Planning Board debated Tuesday night whether a proposed vacant building ordinance being considered by the City Council would spur redevelopment of vacant buildings or punish those trying to develop such buildings but are delayed for various reasons, including building costs or financing.

The council voted Sept. 18 to postpone voting on the ordinance at the request of Planning Board Chairperson Samantha Burdick, who said her board wanted to review the ordinance and make recommendations.

Burdick said she was concerned the proposed ordinance would penalize property owners by levying fines on them while they are redeveloping vacant buildings. She also said she was concerned it would prompt the demolition of historic structures or cause owners to rehabilitate them quickly, rather than taking time to do it right.

The Waterville Housing Committee, headed up by Rebecca Green, also the City Council chairperson, developed the ordinance with input from City Solicitor William A. Lee III. Green said Tuesday the intent of the ordinance is to incentivize redevelopment of properties into housing at a time when housing is critically needed.

“It came to our attention that there are 77 properties in the city that are vacant right now,” Green said. “Most of them are residential, some are commercial.”

Green said the vacant buildings could represent 100 units of housing. The ordinance, she said, is modeled on one in Sanford that has been successful. The Waterville proposal includes a requirement the owner of a vacant building must obtain a permit, with the cost to acquire one being $300. The intent is to work with property owners to fix up buildings, make them safer and bring them back to a useful purpose.


Planning Board member Hilary Koch said she and her family moved to Waterville many years ago from Kansas and tried to sell their vacant home in Kansas, but were unsuccessful for two years. She asked Green to walk her through a scenario where that happens in Waterville. She asked if she would have to register it as a vacant home and pay a fee, according to the ordinance, to keep it vacant, all while paying two mortgages.

Green said she did not know the answer, but hoped to have a code enforcement officer weigh in to explain how it works. Waterville now has the opposite situation, where houses are being bought, but some are left in deteriorating and unsafe condition, Green said.

Burdick said the city already has an ordinance that addresses blighted buildings and requires owners to adequately protect them from intruders and weather.

“My question is, why do we need a new ordinance, or can we just expand on the language that we already have and solve this issue that we’re talking about,” Burdick said.

If people are not taking care of the buildings, the city should find out why, she said. The city should also ascertain why there are 77 vacant buildings, why they are not being sold and what roadblocks owners are facing when trying to rehabilitate them.

Burdick said developers are facing major hurdles because of inflation, the cost of building supplies and difficulty finding people to do the work. Fining owners is not an incentive to development, Burdick said.


Paula Raymond, a member of the housing committee, said 20 of the 77 vacant buildings are older structures in the South End, in serious disrepair and dragging down values of adjacent properties. She said a vacant building ordinance would give code enforcement officers the teeth they need to enforce rules about such buildings.

Burdick said the old Lockwood Mill and former Seton Hospital properties are vacant, but developers are working to make them viable by getting the right tax credits and tax increment financing credits, processes that take time and millions of dollars.

“I don’t know if you understand the complexity of redevelopment,” she said. “Some of these large, large commercial buildings, you can’t just redevelop them because you want to.”

Burdick said she would like to know the building vacancy rate in Waterville versus that of other communities in Maine.

“Is this an actual big problem or not?” she said.

Koch and Green said they think everyone wants the same thing for Waterville and its housing situation. Koch said she is not sure a vacant building ordinance is the solution to the problem. She urged a larger discussion be held.


“I think Waterville residents deserve to be part of the process and to engage in the discussion,” she said.

Green, meanwhile, said she thinks the housing committee would be happy to make the ordinance more specific.

Resident Rien Finch said he has been looking to buy a house, but some of those at which he has looked would require two or three years of work before he could move in. It would be wrong for the city to say he would have to pay a fee while it is vacant, Finch said.

“I don’t think I’d buy a house in Waterville if this ordinance was in effect,” he said.

The vacant building ordinance is expected to be on the agenda for the City Council’s meeting Tuesday, and the housing committee is set to discuss it Wednesday. The public can weigh in at both meetings.

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