Demolition of cat hoarding home slated

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Following a disgustingly descriptive public hearing, the Casco Board of Selectmen voted to schedule for demolition several structures including a residential home, where a cat hoarding case occurred last summer.

The town will proceed with the removal of these structures located at 23 Burgess Road at the end of 45 days. That is the time allowed by law for the property owner to delay the process by filing an abatement plan, to take financial responsibility for the demolition, or simply to remove any items of value from the buildings. The outlying buildings include a garage, a milking barn, and a barn.

During the 45-day grace period, the Town of Casco is not legally responsible for injuries to anyone who enters the home or outlying buildings, according to Town Attorney Natalie Burns.

Testimony revealed that the house has multiple signs of being structurally unsafe and inhabitable for humans.

“The inside of the building was far worse than the view from the outside,” said Jessica Jackson, assistant to the animal control officer.

On Tuesday night, Jackson was one of half a dozen people who testified to the condition of the house.

“My concerns were for myself and other’s safety when I went in. The floors were bowed. The walls had holes in them with insulated material coming out. The doors could not be moved to be opened or closed without taking off the hinges.

In the basement, what appeared to be support beams were broken in two. The windows didn’t go up and down. We had to walk around the perimeter of the room. A lot of the floors were squishy,” said Jackson, who entered the home to rescue the cats.

“There were dead carcasses. There were animal feces and human feces. The (fecal matter) was level with the couch cushions,” she said.

Attorney Sarah Glynn represented the property owner. According to Glynn, the property owner left the state for Florida in November, and had plans to return to Casco in June.

Glynn pointed out that the landowner had been cooperative with the town, and had intentions of paying the debt for the cats’ removal and medical needs. In addition, the homeowner said she would pay this year’s property taxes, and had recently paid back taxes for three years.

Her client’s “primary concern was that the cats would get good homes,” she said.

Glynn requested that the owners be given time to retrieve any objects of value. Such a list could be written, she said. The hope was that someone with a breathing apparatus could enter the buildings and safely get the belongings for the homeowner.

“I would ask that she be allowed some leeway and time,” Glynn said.

Also, Glynn requested that none of the photos of the home’s interior be released or distributed. She asked that all photos and video be destroyed to protect her client’s privacy.

However, Town Attorney Burns said the board could not grant that request. According to Burns, any documents provided to the board became public domain.

“I am not sure if there is anything that makes these photos confidential. I am not aware of anything in the Freedom of Information Access Act that would allow that. Almost everything that the board sees is a matter of public record,” Burns said, adding the property owner’s attorney could ask for a court order.

Later in the discussion regarding photos and invasion of privacy, Burns reminded the selectmen that the distribution or destruction of photographs was not their decision.

“This is not an area the board should be discussing. I would say no one has acted inappropriately in this manner,” Burns said. The vote at hand was to determine whether or not the buildings should be demolished, she said.

Those to testify included Gretchen Plummer, an emergency responder who also holds the title of Casco Health Officer. Initially, a welfare check occurred — after someone called dispatch because the homeowner had not been seen, Plummer said.

“I personally didn’t go into the property because I didn’t have the gear. The odor was nauseous. (I) and another firefighter developed a sinus infection” from the cat urine, Plummer said, adding she had positioned herself upwind of the smell.

The property was quarantined in July, she said.

Casco Code Enforcement Officer Don Murphy said the town should move forward with the removal process. “Winter is the best time environmentally to take down the home. Now, it is time to take care of the buildings,” he said.

“The footprint for those buildings is 130 feet from a stream. Once the building is down, if it is not rebuilt within a year, the setbacks would be nonconforming and nothing could be reconstructed there,” he said.

Murphy also spoke about the conditions of the structures, and keeping open the avenues of communication with the landowner.

“I am not here to tear down barns. Barns can be fixed. If there was a professionally-presented plan, I would have been okay with the barn,” he said. “One vehicle that was reported as stolen, had actually fallen through the floor of the barn,” he said.

“I would condemn the buildings that were structurally unsound, and the house itself because of the cat urine,” he said.

When he notified the property owner that the town was going through the legal process to remove the residential dwelling, the owner did not offer a solution such as having the home professionally cleaned.

According to Attorney Glynn, that cost estimate was “in the six figures.”

The next step was to contact her client, and find out if it’s possible for the property owner to return to Maine sooner to retrieve any valuable items.

Maine law allows owners of private property, on which buildings have been condemned, time to salvage belongings.

Jackson said Dec. 14 was the last day she entered the home, looking for any cats that had wandered back inside after initial rescue efforts ended.

“The conditions had gotten worse. The floor in the dining room had sunk. I am imagining that after Dec. 14 it is worse, especially with heavy snow on the roof,” she said.

“I would be tremendously fearful to enter even to get my most precious items,” Jackson said.

 

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