BELLOWS FALLS -- The Rockingham Selectboard on Tuesday opted to take another step in addressing a deteriorating Green Street building that has become a major eyesore.
Selectboard members voted unanimously to direct Town Attorney Stephen Ankuda to draft an order demanding the health hazards at 42 Green St. be abated and authorizing Municipal Manager Willis D. "Chip" Stearns II to sign it and to investigate alternatives to abatement.
A public meeting was held during Tuesday's two-and-a-half-hour meeting to give the property owner a chance to explain to the Selectboard why an order of abatement, or perhaps demolition, should not be issued. Owned by Scott and Veronica Cooper when these issues arose, the property's title-holder is now the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA), more commonly known as Fannie Mae, because it did not sell at auction. No one from Fannie Mae was present at Tuesday's meeting.
"Your decision should be in relation to health issues and not any of the other issues like property value," Ankuda said.
Rockingham Health Officer Ellen Howard told Selectboard members the building is a three-story, three-apartment structure that has been empty for two years. She said an initial inspection report was issued in November 2011, but no action was taken to correct the deficiencies outlined in the letter.
Howard said the engineer also recommended, due to the structure's close proximity to public streets and sidewalks, that it be repaired or rebuilt in accordance with the Vermont safety code or be removed.
"The building was ordered vacated in August 2012 per an emergency health order that she issued and it was followed by a regular health order issued by the Selectboard in September 2012," she said, adding that she has no knowledge of any improvements made to the interior of the building.
Bellows Falls Fire Chief Bill Weston told Selectboard members he did a fire safety inspection on June 13, 2012, and he had a difficult time getting in contact with the owner.
"To my knowledge, none of the fire code issues and violations have been addressed at all," he said. "And when we say it continues to deteriorate, when Ellen closed the building on an emergency health order in August 2012, we had some pretty serious concerns about the two or three chimneys ... that were in very, very poor condition.
"I personally have some pretty major concerns that those chimneys are going to topple and end up on the sidewalk," he continued.
Ankuda said the Selectboard has a few options, but the quickest way to protect the public is to demolish the property and file a lien for any costs accumulated. Rockingham Selectboard Chairman Tom MacPhee said he is in favor of tearing down the building.
Ankuda said he will soon draft the order and the property owner will have 30 days to respond once it is signed.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.