Store owners agree to cleanup deadline

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Owners of the Falls General Store agreed to clear the site at 176 Croswell Road in Farmington Falls by Oct. 26 in a consent agreement signed by selectmen.

FARMINGTON — Owners of a fire-damaged building have 30 days to clean up the property, according to a consent agreement with selectmen Tuesday.

Falls General Store owners Daniel Searles and Lori Berry have until Oct. 26 to address damage at the property at 176 Croswell Road in Farmington Falls. 

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“We want it down as much as you guys do,” Berry said.

A fire that damaged the store and apartment above it on April 4 was ruled arson by Sgt. Joel Davis of the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Concerns about the property prompted the town to schedule a joint public hearing Tuesday for selectmen to consider whether the property is abandoned and/or dangerous according to state law.

The plan, Berry said, is to demolish the remaining building, clear the site, fill and cover the foundation and be done with it.

Contractors have told the owners that all but one wall is unsafe which qualifies it as a dangerous building, Code Enforcement Officer Steve Kaiser said.

The insurance company has been difficult to deal with over the past five months, said Brad Grant, the owners’ attorney. A week ago, the company indicated the insurance would cover it and give them an advance to start the work, he said.

Town attorney Frank Underkuffler on Tuesday provided a draft consent agreement for selectmen and the owners to consider.

Rather than hold a joint public hearing, Grant asked for time to go over the draft with his clients before talking with selectmen. They came back to the meeting with a signed consent agreement.

In the agreement, they will obtain an estimate within a week from an impartial contractor for the cost of cleaning up the site. They agreed to have the work completely done in 30 days.

Selectmen also agreed to sign the agreement without an escrow account mentioned in the agreement. Grant said the owners had been without resources over the past five months and could not provide funding for escrow or a percentage of the cost of the project that the town can hold as security for compliance of the agreement.

The owners also cannot pay for legal fees incurred by the town, so far nearly $1,400.

The agreement allows the town to step in and clean up the site if the owners do not and to recover the costs from a special assessment of real estate taxes or court action, according to the agreement.

abryant@sunmediagroup.net

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