Sanford City Council held a public hearing and first reading of a proposed ordinance that would restrict where certain registered sex offenders may live, during their meeting on Tuesday. The matter is expected to come back for a second reading and a vote, perhaps at their next meeting, May 7. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

SANFORD – The Sanford City Council is considering a sex offender residency restriction ordinance that would cite landlords and property owners for violations.

The proposal came to the council through the request of a constituent, Sanford Deputy Mayor Luke Lanigan said on Tuesday at the first reading. The proposed ordinance will go back to the public safety subcommittee for continued review, likely on Tuesday,  before a second reading and a vote, perhaps as early as May 7, when the council holds its next meeting.

The ordinance would apply to registered sex offenders convicted of Class A, B, or C felony sex crimes involving children under age 14. People convicted of those crimes would not be allowed to live within 750 feet of a school or designated “safe zone” like a park, playground or recreation area. Property owners would be responsible for making sure their tenants don’t fall into those categories, according to the city.

Under the proposal, “no person, firm, or corporation may lease, rent, allow residential use of a property, reside or otherwise allow or cause a person convicted of Class A, B or C sex offenses committed against persons who had not attained 14 years of age at the time of the offense to reside, live, or dwell within 750 feet of the property boundary of any “safe zone” designated … or a public or private elementary, middle, or secondary school. Failure to comply with this provision shall be deemed a violation of this article.”

Penalties for the civil violation would  range from $100 to $2,500 a day, under the city’s business licensing code.

Registered sex offenders living in a property within those boundaries prior to adoption of the ordinance would not be required to move, according to the proposal.

“In the future it really is an obligation of the owner of that property to make sure the sex offender isn’t living there, and then it is also the responsibility of realtors or someone at the time of the sale to make sure they aren’t selling a property or allowing a sale to take place to a sex offender,” if the ordinance is adopted, said Sanford Community Development Director Ian Houseal.

He said the proposed ordinance is included with the city’s licensing codes because the city can create an official map and email it annually to the owners of Sanford’s 1,000 rental units. He said the city a working list of 85 percent of those owners.

The Maine Legislature in 2009 passed a bill setting out specifics regarding the ability of municipalities to create ordinances to restrict residency of registered sex offenders.

Some communities, like Waterboro and Lyman, passed ordinances several years earlier and have since amended them to conform to state statutes.

Waterboro’s ordinance was adopted by town wide referendum in 2006 after an uproar ensued when a registered sex offender, Joseph Tellier, who has since died, moved into the neighborhood around the then-location of Massabesic Junior High School. Tellier was released from prison in 2004 after serving time for the 1989 abduction, molestation and beating of a 10-year-old girl.

The ordinances in Waterboro and Lyman cite “any person in violation” as the individual to be cited.

Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach approved sex offender residency ordinances within months of each other in 2015. In those three communities, the registered sex offender is cited for violations.

Saco Deputy Police Chief Jack Clements said the department has not charged anyone under the ordinance since its 2015 adoption. It was unclear if people had been cited in other communities.

The minimum penalty for violators is $500 a day in those five communities.

“It this enforceable from a police perspective?” asked Lanigan of Sanford’s proposed ordinance during Tuesday’s public hearing.

Sanford Police Chief Thomas Connolly said is was his understanding that the ordinance would fall under licensing and permitting as a zoning issue, and so would be enforced against the property, rather than the sex offender. He said the police department would have little to do with the ordinance unless there was a problem at the location.

“I think it’s a good move, but police would have limited involvement because of the way the ordinance is written,” said Connolly.

Sanford City Manager Steve Buck pointed out that the state gives the municipalities authority to craft such ordinances. He also pointed out that a registered sex offender as defined under the ordinance could own a property within the restricted zone – but would not be able to live there.

“How do you find out who is who?” asked landlord Frank Watson.

Connolly advised Watson to check applicants on the state’s sex offender registry list, available online.

There were 40 registered sex offenders on the state’s list as of Wednesday. Of those, 20 were sentenced in states other than Maine and not clear if their  convictions would fall into categories similar to Maine’s A, B and C felonies. In four other specific cases, the out-of-state charges for which they were convicted spelled out that the victim was under 14 years old. Of those Sanford registered sex offenders convicted in Maine, 14 were for A, B or C felonies and two others were misdemeanors.

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

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