The city of Belfast is planning legal action against the developers of the former Stinson Seafood property.

City Attorney William Kelly said he intended to file two suits June 16 against the owner and would-be developer of the property, Belfast Bridge LLC.

The first would ask the court rule on the city’s efforts to force the developer to tear down a derelict building at the north end of the property. Building 1, as the skeletal structure overlooking the footbridge is known, was found to have numerous building code infractions and hazards. In September the city attempted to enforce the building code, demanding that the structure be razed by mid-December.

Some snow fencing and plywood went up on the building, making it more difficult to enter, but it remained standing. According to Kelly, the owners never responded to the letter.

Kelly said the second suit would ask the court to determine the rights and obligations of the parties in terms of the original contract rezoning agreement. A subset of this lawsuit, Kelly said, will seek to rescind the contract entirely.

“It’s an extreme remedy,” he said. “It’s not the kind of thing you typically see in a contract case.”

The agreement, which Kelly described as a “complex web of rights and responsibilities back and forth,” involves a lease of city property to the developer, a sublease back to the city, an agreement regarding the use of the rail corridor and provisions for building a commercial fishermen’s dock.

“The best we can do, I think, is have the court declare they’re in breach of … everything,” Kelly said. “It’s just an utter failure in terms of the contract.”

The property in question was the site of a sardine cannery for almost a century. The last owners, Stinson Seafood Company, closed the plant in 2001. Belfast Bridge LLC bought the property and in 2005 settled on a contract rezoning agreement that would allow a broader range of uses for the former commercial property.

Belfast Bridge LLC proposed to convert the existing buildings to a condominium, retail, office and marina complex called “Wakeag Landing.” Site preparations began in 2006, but cost overruns forced the developers to abandon the project several months later.

The project was briefly revived by Connecticut-based developer Westport Capital Partners in 2007, but within months, the group decided the project would not be profitable and backed away. The buildings of the former cannery have remained in a state of disrepair.

Kelly said he believed that since Belfast Bridge LLC never replied to the city’s demand to tear down Building 1, the first suit would be a relatively summary proceeding.

The second suit, seeking to clarify the rights and liabilities of the parties involved in the contract, could take much longer, he said.

Kelly said he hoped the lawsuits would remove any questions surrounding the use of $200,000 that the city obtained from a letter of credit last year. The letter of credit was originally issued as a guarantee that the developer would build a portion of the coastal walkway that follows the old Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad line from the footbridge to Steamboat Landing.

The issuer, Machias Savings Bank, notified the city in late 2008 that it would not renew the letter of credit. The city responded by demanding payment.

In the fall of 2008, the City Council amended the agreement in order to provide a commercial fishermen’s dock for mooring owners displaced during development. According to city officials, the developer never signed the amendment, leaving the city with questions as to whether the developer could challenge the city’s use of the money for a dock.

Asked if rescinding the contract lets the developer off the hook, Kelly said he didn’t think so.

“I think a significant aspect of the value of that property is in the contract,” he said ” … Otherwise you’re down to an industrial commercial-type property, and you certainly wouldn’t be able to do the things that were contracted for.”

Asked when the city might see Building 1 come down, Kelly said he hoped by winter. The rescision action would likely take longer, he said. “You’re in Superior Court. It can take a year and a half or two years before you have a hearing.”

If the developer doesn’t respond to an order to tear down Building 1, Kelly said the city could resort to tearing down the building and charging the developer for it.