This building at 46 High St., in Sanford, condemned by the city in January, was declared a dangerous building by the City Council on Tuesday due to code violations. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

SANFORD – City staff in Sanford say the 147-year-old commercial building with residential units on the second story at 46 High St. has been condemned for code violations.

On Tuesday, the Sanford City Council declared the building to be dangerous under the municipality’s  ordinances. That means the owner has 24 hours to secure the property and 30 days to submit a plan to fix the deficiencies.

Despite the condemnation, which stipulates the property is unfit for human occupancy, two of the three units on the second floor of 46 High Street, the former Alexson’s Cleaners, remain occupied, Community Development Director Ian Houseal told the city council.

The City of Sanford condemned 46 High St. on January 29, still, two of the three apartments on the second floor remain occupied. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

He said the 1872 building had once been a bakery and later a furniture store. It once sported three stories, but a fire destroyed the third floor in the 1980s. The storefront became a dry cleaning establishment at some point; it closed in 2003.

The site underwent assessment by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in 2006 and was the subject of an action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2009 to deal with dry cleaning fluid   –tetrachloroethylene, also known a perchloroethene or PCE  – that had spilled into the soil. Houseal said there were two spills – out the door and into the sidewalk, and directly into the crawl space. The EPA has classified tetrachloroethylene as likely to be carcinogenic to humans and has outlined a number of other health issues connected to exposure to the chemical.

The owner of the property, Andre Desvergnes did not attend the Tuesday council meeting. In a telephone interview on Wednesday, the Limerick resident he said he believed the EPA’s two removal actions in the spring of 2009 had taken care of the dry cleaning fluid issue and that he has taken action to shore up the building’s structural issues and conduct other repairs required by the city.

Andre and Christine Desvergnes purchased the property in 2002 and continued to lease the storefront to the dry cleaner until it closed in 2003. In 2006, High Street Rental Property LLC was formed, with Christine Desvergnes as the registered agent. State records show that LLC was dissolved by the Maine Secretary of State in August 2013 for failure to file an annual report that year. Andre Desvergnes on Wednesday said he is the owner of the property.

“I’ve been doing everything they asked me to do,” said Desvergnes. He said he paid $2,000 for the services of a structural engineer to come up with a plan for structural support, which he said was then carried out. He said he installed a new boiler  – even though he said he felt it wasn’t needed – and more.

Sanford Codes Enforcement Officer Jeanne Wood  told the city council on Tuesday  that the old heating system had a hole in it.

Desvergnes said a second inspection after structural and other work was done resulted in the codes enforcement officer letting him know he had to install hard-wired smoke detectors. He said he had called an electrician but the work could not be scheduled for two weeks.

“The town has not told me to evict the tenants,” he said of the condemnation action taken on January 29. That notice, posted on the storefront, spells out that the building is unfit for human occupancy and that no one should be in it or use it after Feb. 28.

“I didn’t think I’d have to evict them,” he said. “They haven’t told me to do that,” he said of the city staff.

Desvergnes said since he fixed the original violations he believes he should be entitled to an extension to fix the additional violations  outlined as a result of the second inspection.

Desvergnes on Wednesday said he is very surprised the city council voted to declare the property a dangerous building.

“There’s no fairness going on here,” he said. “They aren’t helping me. There are worse buildings out there than this.”

Wood said she inspected the property a second on March 14, and found a number of deficiencies remaining. She said two units remained occupied despite the condemnation.

Wood said there were broken windows in the building and deteriorated concrete blocks on back side of parking deck. She said there were missing smoke alarms, defective electrical fixtures and outlets, and that the basement electrical system needs to be looked at to make sure it is safe. She said there is at least one large hole in the wall. She said with the water intrusion continuing, the new structural supports will deteriorate.

Houseal told the city council that his research shows a newborn child was living in one of the apartment units over the former dry cleaning establishment when the chemical spill was discovered in the mid-2000s.

According to information supplied by the EPA in March 2009, contaminated soil around the facility was excavated, while remaining soil and groundwater under the building was treated by chemical oxidation.

“This treatment process chemically degrades the PCE into carbon dioxide, oxygen, and chloride ions,” a 2009 news release from the EPA  stated. “The excavation removed all of the PCE in the accessible soil, and the post-treatment sampling results indicated that the PCE concentrations in the remaining soil and groundwater beneath the building were reduced by about 50 percent.”

Houseal said as far as he can determine, the EPA has not conducted any follow-up testing.

“(It is) a hazard to health and safety because it is obsolete,” he said of the building. “It has had 147 years of industrial use and resulting environmental impacts. This is not an appropriate house or dwelling for anybody… the building has lost all its useful life … it has given its all.”

Houseal said the city believes the property may still have environmental issues. He said he has opened dialogue with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Mayor Tom Cote expressed concerns for the tenants, who might not know the building’s history.

The City Council voted 5-0 to declare the building dangerous under the ordinance. Councilors Joseph Hanslip and John Tuttle were absent.

Two other properties, 14 Proulx Court and 65 Emery St., were also declared dangerous under the ordinance.

None of the owners of any of the three buildings  attended the hearings.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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