PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Presque Isle City Council held its first in-person meeting in three months on Wednesday, June 4, addressing several local concerns and setting sights on the Star City’s future.
After two months of remote meetings amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday’s session felt like a return to normalcy. The council dove into local matters, such as improving pedestrian safety, addressing dangerous buildings and the state of summer recreation programs. The pandemic hardly entered discussion.
The only sign of the times may have been the face coverings people wore to follow social distancing guidelines from Gov. Janet Mills. Nearly all of the 17 residents and city staff members who attended wore masks. Four out of six councilors attending did so.
The council devoted a substantial amount of the meeting to a public hearing on three buildings it considered declaring dangerous. That declaration begins a process that could end in the city tearing the buildings down if the owners do not renovate them in compliance with building codes.
Fernand Martin owns properties at 23 Howard St. and 71 Dyer St. Martin — who had previously come before the council because of code violations at his properties — spoke to the council with his son, Eric Martin.
Presque Isle code enforcement officer George Howe said 23 Howard St. was “literally starting to split apart” with the roof leaking and the chimney in a state of disrepair.
Eric Martin said he and his father had recently made efforts to repair the building, including fixing the chimney. He said they planned to work on the roof and porch as well.
Howe said 71 Dyer St. — also owned by Martin — was “very dangerous” with a staircase that could collapse very quickly. Because of other issues, including mold and a degraded foundation, the city had condemned the building and nobody was living at the property.
Eric Martin said repairs were being held up as they waited on an insurance claim on the property. He said someone had broken into the building during the winter.
The council voted to table declaring both buildings dangerous until next month, when they will examine Martin’s efforts — practical action and plans — to get the buildings in line with code.
The city unanimously voted to declare a property at 9 Allen St. owned by Roger Pelkey and Robin Legassie a dangerous building. Howe said that the property had electrical issues, ceiling leaks, mold and inadequate lighting.
Pelkey and Legassie — who did not attend the meeting — continued to rent out the apartment after it was condemned by the city in 2019, Howe said. The Presque Isle Police assisted in evicting that resident in January.
The council also re-approved most of the items voted on at last month’s council meeting, which Presque Isle City Council Chair Kevin Freeman acknowledged. The city of Presque Isle did not broadcast that meeting to the public as it occurred.
“We did do some of these last month,” Freeman said. “We’re doing them again in a public vote.”
Many of the other matters brought up at the meeting involved planning for the city’s future. The council approved the top results of a survey of councilors and department heads on the city’s primary goals for 2020 and 2021.
Some of the top results included “design ways” to support businesses interested in operating in Presque Isle, redesigning the city’s website to be mobile-friendly and accept online payments and beginning to evaluate proposals on city hall renovations.
City Manager Martin Puckett said the city was soliciting a consulting engineer/designer to renovate city hall, with the renovation costs added to the 2021 city budget. A committee on the matter had constructed a request for proposal, with proposals due June 24.
Returning to an issue that had been addressed at the last few meetings, the council took further action to make the intersection of Chapman Road and Riverside Drive safer for pedestrians. Puckett had previously said the past pedestrian safety issues warranted action by the city.
A traffic engineer from the Maine Department of Transportation recommended that the city move the intersection’s stop bar — labeling where vehicles should stop — farther south. It also recommended the city repaint crosswalks to better direct pedestrians and add new signs notifying drivers of the intersection’s speed limit and sharp corners.
Toward the meeting’s end, Pucket provided an update on some of Presque Isle’s summer programming. Presque Isle’s recreation and parks department hopes to offer archery, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking and gardening activities this summer.
Puckett said that participants and their families would be recommended to take social distancing measures in these activities, including requests that attendees wear face masks — when applicable — that they bring their own water bottles and that everybody stay six feet apart.
“Obviously, we are not going to have police officers out there, but these are recommendations,” Pucket said.