Dangerous-building hearing set for Norway apartment house

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NORWAY — The Board of Selectmen may decide tonight whether to condemn a downtown apartment building that officials say may be dangerous.

The hearing begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, in the town office on Danforth Street.

Earlier this month, selectmen voted unanimously to hold a “dangerous building” public hearing to determine whether to condemn the house at 17 Deering St. in downtown Norway that officials say is a fire hazard. The building is one of a number of apartment buildings owned by longtime Norway landlord Madeline Pratt.

The house has five dwelling units and an attached barn. At the time selectmen decided to hold a hearing at least two of the apartments were occupied — one by a single man and the other by a family with children, according to information from town officials. It was unclear Wednesday whether any of the tenants remained in the building, Town Manager David Holt said.

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Holt said Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman will be doing a site inspection on Thursday prior to the hearing.

Under Maine law, Chapter 17, Sections 2851 and 2856, towns have the right to secure structures or properties that pose a serious threat to the public’s health and safety. The town must notify the property owner and hold a hearing if it wants to declare a site a nuisance or hazard and take further action to get it cleaned up. The town may also ask the Superior Court for an order to demolish a structure or remove debris if it is appropriate under the law.

According to Corey-Whitman, the Norway Fire Department was called to the building at the end of October and discovered hazardous electrical issues in a second-floor apartment. Fire Chief Dennis Yates notified Corey-Whitman of the problems.

Flanders Electric was contacted by the building owners to help fix the problem, but Corey-Whitman said they were not able to correct the issues without demolition to some walls and greater expense.

Corey-Whitman said in late November the owners told her they would be closing the building. Since then, there have been other issues discovered — a burst pipe in an empty apartment and subsequent leaking of water for weeks into the first-floor-rear apartment. There were also additional complaints from the tenants.

More issues were discovered during a complete building inspection in January that resulted in the decision to hold the dangerous building hearing, Corey-Whitman said.

Attempts by the code enforcement agent to work with the Pratt family to resolve the issue and to evict the tenants until the work was completed were unsuccessful.

Pratt’s rental units have been the center of controversy after a series of investigative articles by the Norway-based Advertiser-Democrat uncovered numerous health and safety code violations in her buildings and buildings owned by several other landlords last fall.

The Maine Housing Authority has blocked the 90-year-old Pratt from participating in the Section 8 housing program for low-income residents.

This is not the first time the ordinance has been used. Progress has been made townwide over the past year to clean up about a dozen dangerous and nuisance properties, including debris from four buildings that burned down in the past several years.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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