The Biddeford City Council in October voted 5 to 4 in favor of a lease-purchase arrangement with the Hill’s Beach Association for the fire station at 162 Hill’s Beach Road, but the Hill’s Beach Volunteer Fire and Rescue Unit says it still owns the property. Journal Tribune File Photo/Ed Pierce

BIDDEFORD — The Hills Beach Volunteer Fire and Rescue Unit has notified the city of Biddeford that if it continues to pursue transfer of the building and property at 162 Hill’s Beach Road to another entity, the unit will proceed with legal action.

An attorney representing the Hill’s Beach Volunteer Fire and Rescue Unit, William Gallitto III, notified the city by letter of the unit’s intent on Feb. 14.

The Biddeford City Council voted 5 to 4 to sell the Hill’s Beach Fire Station to the Hill’s Beach Association for $100,000 in a lease-purchase arrangement on Oct. 15. The HBA has one year from the vote to enter into the lease agreement. To date, it has not done so.

Those involved with the Hill’s Beach Volunteer Fire and Rescue Unit say the corporation remains intact and continues to hold meetings, and the letter to the city by Gallitto on their behalf states that the unit remains the owner of record of the property.

City assessing records list the fire and rescue unit as the owner, and values the property at $488,000.

Fire and rescue unit President Raymond Cronkite said in light of the state’s strict training regulations that have affected volunteer fire companies all over Maine, no one stepped in when the district fire chief retired, and so a lull ensued.


But now, Cronkite said the unit is ready to forge ahead with plans to continue its mission of saving lives and property by focusing on water rescue, and has plans to substitute the fire truck with two rescue boats.

“We want the real estate back and are ready to move forward” with the rescue boat plan, he said.

City Manager James Bennett says the building has not been used as a fire station for at least five years.

“Obviously, it will shape up to some sort of legal process,” said Bennett. “Ultimately, I am very confident the issue will be resolved so the property will be handed over to the Hill’s Beach Association as the City Council voted to do.”

The city transferred a vacant quarter-acre lot it owned to the Hill’s Beach Volunteer Fire and Rescue Unit in 1980. In 1982, the unit acquired funds to construct a two-story building, which Gallitto wrote was constructed by the fire and rescue unit membership. During the same year, it leased the second floor of the building to the Hill’s Beach Association.

According to the attorney’s letter, the bottom portion of the building, specifically the garage, has been used and maintained as a fire station.


The 1980 deed from the city to the fire and rescue unit has a reverter clause which has the property go back to the city if the fire station is no longer being used as intended. It states, “This conveyance is made upon the express condition that the premises herein before described shall forever be held, used and maintained by the grantee as a fire station. Upon breach of this condition, the title shall revert to the grantor.”

Under the terms of the 15-year, lease-purchase arrangement with the city, once executed, the HBA would pay the city $5,000 annually. If the purchase is made within the first five years, 75 percent of all lease payments would be applied toward the purchase price; 50 percent of the rent would apply toward the sale price if the purchase is made between years five and 10; and 25 percent of rental fees would go toward the purchase price if the HBA bought the facility between years 10 and 15. As well, the HBA may renew the lease for two additional terms of five years, at $7,500 annually for the first extension, and $10,000 annually for the second extension.

HBA President Patricia Boston said the Hills Beach community “recognizes and sincerely appreciates the commitment, initiative and efforts of all who participated in the creation of and have led the (fire and rescue unit) as well as the volunteers who provided services for many years.”

The HBA is in the process of creating the Hill’s Beach Community Center, Inc., which would own and manage the building, she said. The new entity has applied for nonprofit status, which assures the city that the property would not become a for-profit enterprise, she said.

“We look forward to concluding a lease-purchase agreement with the City of Biddeford and bringing new life to the facility the (Hill’s Beach Volunteer Fire and Rescue Unit) built,” she said.

Gallitto, writing on behalf of the fire and rescue unit, said any further action by the city which calls into question the ownership of the property would force the unit to file suit to quiet title, for declaratory judgment, unjust enrichment and violation of due process, and would seek an injunction to stop the transfer of the property. He suggested the two entities meet to discuss the situation.

Cronkite described the action by Biddeford City Council as a “hostile takeover.”

The Hill’s Beach Volunteer Fire and Rescue Unit was never given proper due notice of the city’s decision to take ownership of the property, and the action is unconstitutional, Cronkite said.

If it maintains ownership, the fire and rescue unit would continue to be a good neighbor and would welcome occasional meetings and other community events by the Hill’s Beach Association, Cronkite said.

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