Auburn steps up security at vacant buildings

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Auburn firefighter Chris Poremby, left, and Lt. Ryan Demers board up a door during a training exercise at a vacant duplex on Webster Street in Auburn on Tuesday. Firefighters intended to go inside for training, Demers said, but after seeing what a mess the interior was, they decided to train outside. 

AUBURN — Police and code enforcement employees are keeping a closer eye on Auburn's vacant and abandoned buildings in the wake of downtown Lewiston's spate of fires.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Auburn firefighter Chris Poremby rolls up a hose during a training exercise at a vacant duplex on Webster Street in Auburn on Tuesday. Firefighters intended to go inside for training, Lt. Ryan Demers said, but after seeing what a mess the interior was, they decided to train outside. Neighbors said the building is commonly used by drug dealers.  

"We've always kept records of code complaints, and unsecured buildings is the most common complaint with a vacant building," said Eric Cousens, director planning and permitting for Auburn Planning, Permitting & Code Department. "Now, we are focusing more on somewhat routine inspections, to make sure they stay secure."

Cousens said Auburn has a list of 66 properties that have been abandoned by owners. About 45 of the properties are near the center of the city.

The list includes two warehouses, some industrial land off of Washington Street North near the Rotary, 39 single-family homes and 24 multifamily units. Multifamily units range from duplexes to seven-unit apartment buildings.

The list is generated from city records of foreclosures, properties that city staff and police officers notice appear vacant or from neighbor complaints.

"It's not illegal for a property to be vacant," Cousens said. "Sometimes you just cannot put people in a property until a foreclosure is completed. But that's not really our concern. We're more concerned that it stays safe and secure. And keeping it secure is usually enough to keep it safe."

City councilors are scheduled to vote June 3 on demolishing one of the properties, a three-story, four-unit tenement at 9 Gamage Ave. If councilors agree, the property owner would have until July to either demolish the building or come up with a plan for repairs.

"It's been chronically unsecured, and we had a fire there in January," Cousens said.

If owners don't step forward, Cousens said the city would begin advertising for a demolition crew to take it down.

Cousens said there no other demolitions planned right now.

"We don't have any other buildings that are in that kind of condition," Cousens said. "It's really not a building worth saving."

According the list, obtained by the Sun Journal in a Maine Freedom of Access request, the vacant buildings are spread around the city but are clustered north of Court Street and the Union Street bypass.

Deputy police Chief Jason Moen said city officials were reluctant to make the list public, fearing it would bring squatters and copper thieves.

"Our concern is copper theft, especially for the single-family homes that are vacant," Moen said. "They are more prone to thieves."

Moen said the list has been given to beat officers who drive by the properties regularly to check on them. Police volunteers and city code employees are visiting them more regularly, too, Cousens said.

"We do them when we are in the area," Cousens said. "There's not an exact schedule, but when there are buildings that are on that list we hope we can at least drive by and check on them. And we have stepped those inspections up in the past week or so."

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Comments

Bob Wright's picture

Bob White, care to elaborate

Bob White, care to elaborate on who didn't do their jobs?

Bob White's picture

I just find it a bit humorous

I just find it a bit humorous that the paper makes it out like these people (police code enforcement and fire) are really coming together and working hard to fix this problem with the vacant buildings. My thought is why hadn't they been doing the same things they are doing now but only before the fires. I know your going to say "maybe they were" I'm sure they weren't because they would have said "we have been doing these preventive things before the fire" . We pay taxes for services and all we hear from everybody is "we are so busy and overwhelm" But now they found the time though didn't they. Now there is a lot that needs to be done but if they would have been doing a little bit at a time their wouldn't be such a need now. Sure we can say its not their responsibility but at the end of the day we can make it our responsibility and hope for no major problems like we have had in the past. This same problem happened in the late 80's

Bob White's picture

To bad they hadn't done their

To bad they hadn't done their job in Lewiston three major fires earlier.

MARK GRAVE's picture

Why doesn’t the city start

Why doesn’t the city start the process of condemning these buildings?

Why not turn abandoned buildings over to new owners, cost free if necessary, to get them renovated and habitable?

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