AUBURN — Lewiston city officials took formal action late Thursday to have the unsafe remains of the former Cowan Mill demolished.

Gil Arsenault, the city’s code enforcement and planning director, is seeking  a judge’s order in Androscoggin County Superior Court to make the owners of the property and interested parties show the court why the building shouldn’t be demolished.

A hearing on the city’s complaint is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, July 21.

The five-story structure was gutted Wednesday by a fire that swept quickly through the vacant building and left its fragile brick exterior a public hazard, city officials said.

“I have inspected the property and building and determined that it meets the criteria for a dangerous building” as defined in state law, Arsenault says in his court complaint.

“The building’s masonry walls and a few structural beams are the remaining structural elements above grade,” Arsenault says. “Due to the fire’s consuming of all wooden elements, there are no supportive and bracing members holding the remaining masonry walls in place. These walls are in imminent jeopardy of collapse. The public health, safety and welfare requires the immediate removal of the building located at 3 Mill St.”

Named as a defendant in the civil action is building owner Martin Finley. Also named are Finley’s daughter, Julie L. Adair, and Bradley McCurtain, who hold mortgages on the property. Platz Associates of Auburn holds a foreclosure judgment on the property and the Maine Revenue Service holds a lien against it, according to the complaint. 

On Thursday, Fire Chief Paul Leclair told the Sun Journal the interior of the building would never be safe for anyone to enter. Even fire investigators were barred from going inside. They must rely instead on photographs, video and witness statements to write their reports. The fire was declared arson late Thursday.

The city has not decided the future of the property, beyond the demolition process. However, George Schott, a local developer who has long had an eye on the Cowan Mill site, said he has not been in contact with city officials since the fire, but remains interested in the property.

“There’s no question; I’d love to get involved in it,” he said.

The fire has pushed the timeline for a deal between the city and any potential developer, Schott said.

“The fact is that somebody’s going to have to spend some serious money taking the building down,” he said. “So would the city do that on their own? Sure. Would the city rather have somebody else do it? Yeah.” 

Staff Writer Rebekah Metzler contributed to this report.

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