Built in 1888, the former fire house has variously served as a polling place, a community building and a thrift shop. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY KATE COUGH

Ticonic Engine House battle becomes a question of authority



ELLSWORTH — The battle to save the former Ticonic 4 Engine House continues.

On Monday evening, the Ellsworth Board of Appeals voted 4-1 to stay proceedings on a challenge to a demolition permit issued to Webber Energy in September.

That gives resident Judy Blood six months to ask the Ellsworth City Council to take up the issue.

Board members also voted unanimously to put a stay on the permit, although Edmond Bearor, an attorney advising the city, said it was questionable whether the board had the authority to do so.

Appeals Board member Jeff Clark voted against delaying the appeal but did not give a reason.

No representatives from Webber were present during the meeting, which was attended by more than a dozen residents.

Bearor said he could make no guarantees but would ask Webber to hold off on tearing down the building until the council has heard the issue.

“I think they recognize the optics,” Bearor said.

The Ellsworth Board of Appeals voted to stay an appeal from resident Judy Blood (at podium) asking the board to rescind a permit issued to Webber Energy in September for demolition of the former Ticonic 4 Engine House. Board members also voted to put a hold on the permit, although an attorney representing the city said it was unclear whether the board had the authority to do so.
ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY KATE COUGH

Permits were issued to Webber on Sept. 10 for demolition of the former firehouse and an adjacent barn. Two days later, Blood appealed the issuance of the permit to tear down the firehouse, and Webber agreed to wait to take any action until after Monday’s hearing. (Blood clarified on Monday that she was not appealing the demolition of the red barn.)

Blood said she was told the City Council would not take up the issue because it was a “quasi-legal” one. But Bearor said because the appeal “isn’t arising out of the zoning ordinance” the board did not have authority to rule on the issue.

“The appeal isn’t premised upon there being anything … the code enforcement officer missed or misinterpreted,” Bearor said. “This board doesn’t analyze restrictive covenants or property rights.” said Bearor. “It’s beyond their jurisdiction.”

Webber purchased the building for $5,000 after responding to a request for proposals [RFP] put out by the city titled “Sale of Historic Municipal Buildings.” A sentence in the RFP, which Blood read during Monday’s meeting, reads: “Any future change in use, at any time, will require the approval of the City Council.”

But the deed had no such constraints.

“The city granted a deed with no restrictions,” said Appeals Board Chairman Jeff Toothaker, who began the meeting by reading from the document. “There are no promises, there are no restrictions, there are no ‘you have to keep the property alive.’ There’s none of that in the deed.”

“I’d like this thing heard by the City Council,” Toothaker said. “They created the problem. They should fix it.”

The building is not on the historic registry but has been acknowledged by city officials in the past “to have significant local historic interest by the Ellsworth Historic Preservation Commission,” according to the RFP.

Blood said she had begun the process of certifying the building as historic, which can be done without an owner’s involvement, but that it “is not an easy process.”

A sign on State Street calls attention to the Ellsworth Board of Appeals meeting on Webber Energy’s planned demolition of the former Ticonic 4 Engine House.
ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY STEPHEN FAY

But Bearor said there was little record of the city’s intentions for the building after the RFP.

Responding to a question from resident Rebecca Maddocks-Wilbur, Bearor said: “I think you can request anything in the world you want in an RFP, ma’am, and when you get one proposal you decide whether you’re going to accept that proposal and what the terms are going to be.”

“The record is blank after that,” Bearor said. “It’s a difficult row for you to hoe. I’m not discouraging you from hoeing it.”

 

 

 

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Southwest Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]

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