Former Birds Eye site clean up falls to city

Natalie De La Garza, Special to The County
10 years ago

    CARIBOU, Maine — Using the state’s dangerous building statute, Caribou’s City Council enacted clean up guidelines for the former Birds Eye site in August and property owner Steven R. Nasiff of the Massachusetts-based Nasiff Land LLC was ordered to remove the dilapidated structures and remediate environmental concerns.

With the last remaining deadline for completion of those clean up orders approaching this Friday — the others long since missed — what was hoped to be a cleaned-up site for sore eyes is still an eyesore on the corner of Fort Street and Presque Isle Road.

City Manager Austin Bleess explained during Monday’s city council meeting that the city has been in contact with Nasiff’s legal counsel, but Nasiff himself hasn’t spoken with Caribou officials since he last attended a council meeting on Aug. 11. Little has changed at the site since that time, but there have been some changes behind the scenes.
Nasiff still owed $4,661 in back taxes from 2012 when he last met with councilors this summer, which meant that the city was in a position to foreclose on the blighted property.
During the time Nasiff was slated to make the repairs, the site was put up for auction by mortgage holder Katahdin Trust Company  — but the event was delayed and then cancelled, as outlined by City Manager Bleess. He explained to the council that the bank was going to foreclose on the property but backed off — and Assistant City Manager Tony Mazzucco was outspoken that the council should pressure bank officials to explain their actions.
Mazzucco freely expressed his opinion about the “local bank holding the mortgage and refusing to act on an out-of-state slumlord who owns a dangerous property in our town.”
“I feel it would be appropriate for council to put public pressure on that local bank to make them come good and follow through on their responsibilities to Aroostook County,” he said “I don’t know the specifics of it, but they’re basically backing away and saying they don’t want to follow through on their responsibilities and I think that’s wrong.”
Mazzucco thought that it would be appropriate for the council to have bank officials apprise them of the situation.
Deputy Mayor David Martin clarified that the bank would have ended up with the property if they would have foreclosed, and Mazzucco agreed.
“(Nasiff) may have turned and paid the bank — I don’t know,” he commented. “They’re obviously refusing to take (the property) from him, and why should we have to take (the property) from the bank and the slumlord at the same time? They’re just as bad as he is in this situation.”
Officials from Katahdin Trust Company did not wish to discuss the subject on Tuesday afternoon.
“We were just notified a short time ago that a discussion occurred regarding Katahdin Trust at the City Council meeting last night. We do not have any specific details of the discussion and therefore have no comment at this time,” stated Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications at Katahdin Trust Company Vicki Smith in an email.
Owning the highly visible corner property since 2003, Nasiff has a history with the city of stating his intentions for the site and not following up; earlier this year, for instance, he told the city he would secure the property; Nasiff did not secure the site within the mandated time, and the city paid to erect fencing around the dangerous structures.
Bleess explained that the city can recoup those costs through a special tax on the buildings — but Bleess also told the council that Nasiff’s taxes for 2012 were just paid on Friday, Nov. 21, meaning it could be years until the special tax is paid.
“The city can add the cost in a special tax to the 2015 tax bill when they go out, and any bills for remediation at that point will be included in that,” Bleess explained. “If we don’t get payment, we can always go through civil action in court.”
Bleess asked council to authorize himself and necessary staff to start the process to abate the nuisance, and council did give him permission to begin the less-expensive initial steps, like soil remediation; Bleess also received permission to go ahead with possible civil actions against Nasiff and begin a dialogue with Katahdin Trust officials.
“Based upon what we’ve seen so far and (Nasiff’s) lack of interest in paying the bills, it certainly seems like a civil action would be necessary,” Bleess explained.
If the city had taken possession of the building through foreclosure, Bleess explained that Caribou could apply for grant funding that could cover 80 percent of the anticipated $600,000 cost to clean up the site; the remaining 20 percent would have to be paid by the city. As Nasiff’s 2012 taxes were recently paid, the city can not foreclose.
“I understand the eyesore and I know it needs to be cleaned up, but I just don’t know if I want to burden the community with that cost with the advent of taking a loss completely,” explained councilor Philip McDonough II, suggesting that the city obtain a court order forcing adherence to the clean-up schedule set forth earlier this year through the dangerous buildings statute.
“It puts a little more meat into the maybe future action of the council going forward, if we know that we’re going to get our money back or he’s going to do some time for not doing what he’s supposed to do,” he said.