Disorderly properties and what to do about them was the sole item on the agenda when 11 members of the Orono Town Council met last Wednesday.
The council drafted an ordinance on the first of October with the proposed purpose to “protect the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the Town of Orono by eliminating the proliferation of properties harboring occupants who disturb the peace and tranquility of their neighborhoods.” The draft was sent to the Bangor law offices of Farell, Rosenblatt & Russell to be revised by partner Thomas A. Russell.
Russell commented on several sections of the ordinance, leaving it up to the town council to discuss and initiate possible changes or amendments.
The town defined a disorderly property as a residential property that has been documented by the police as having two or more disorderly events within 60 days, three or more within 120 days, four or more within 180 days, or five or more within 360 days.
Events qualifying as a disorderly include loud music, boisterous gatherings, excessive or loud noises, altercations on the property, and the arrest of occupants or their invitees for activities which constitute a crime or civil infraction.
Added to the ordinance by Russell was the term “and conviction,” referring to the stipulation of occupants or invitees being arrested. Councilors were concerned about the lengthy process of the judicial system, which may take up to a year to convict a person of such an offense.
Russell found that the City of Portland has created a municipal lien on properties when police must respond more than eight times in a 30-day period, compared to Orono’s proposed two or more calls within a 60-day period.
“The comparison we kept making was that if we allowed two in 60 days over the course of the year, how many times could the neighborhood be disrupted?,” said Geoff Gordon, chair of the Community Development Committee. “And we felt that two in 60 days is as many times as we’d want to have the neighborhood disrupted. On its face, it sounds kind of severe, but if you think about it in those terms … If you’re in the neighborhood, do you want to put up with a disturbance every two or three weeks? I don’t think you do.”
Other councilors agreed, even after touching on the fact that Orono is a college town.
“Ninety percent of the people who live in this community do so without disrupting the community ever,” said Councilor Terri Hutchinson.
Another issue discussed is the stipulation that a property classified as disorderly will only be inspected if up for regular code inspection. Orono Code Enforcement Officer John Robichaud suggested a required inspection of disorderly properties regardless of whether they are up for inspection.
“You’re trying to get at difficult properties, trying to eliminate a nuisance and send a strong signal that this isn’t going to be tolerated,” Robichaud said. “If the place is documented by the police chief as a disorderly property, then why not have them go through an inspection?”
Other councilors disagreed, stating that random code enforcement has little to do with the issue and Robichaud’s suggestions could border on harassment.
“What I’m saying is that if you have a problematic property, no matter what the classification is … you want to show some strength out there that this isn’t going to be tolerated,” Robichaud said.
Civil penalties for violating any provision of the ordinance can result in penalties not less than $500 and not more than $1,000. The violator may also be responsible for staff time, attorneys’ fees and costs of the Town of Orono.
Final approval of the ordinance is pending upon another meeting and a public hearing, yet to be scheduled.