BELLOWS FALLS — Lindsay and Courtney Van Schoick pushed back against the town of Rockingham’s attempt to approve a health order against their property at 1 Center Street, and said they were being unfairly targeted by the town.
Rockingham Health Officer Charles “Chuck” Wise told the Rockingham Board of Health Tuesday night that the Van Schoick property was infested with rats because of trash and other debris at the house.
While the Van Schoicks admitted that in 2019 there were 100 bags of trash on the property, that wasn’t the case now. And bags that Wise claimed contained trash, actually held leaves and lawn debris, Courtney Van Schoick said.
Both Van Schoicks accused Wise of trespassing on their property, and not staying off the property once he had been told to stay off.
Wise said he had taken photographs using a stepladder.
The Van Schoicks said the rodents came from other nearby property, and any rats that had been seen on their property were only headed to their neighbor’s garden and beehives, a point that was disputed by the neighbor. Lindsay Van Schoick said the rodents had come across the road from an abandoned house near the Bellows Falls Health Center.
“Gardens attract rats and rats love to eat dead bees,” Van Schoick said.
“I don’t need a biology lesson on rats,” neighbor Matt Tomberg answered.
What had been slated to be a brief hearing before the Board of Health turned into a 3½-hour marathon Tuesday night, as the Van Schoicks contested statements made by Wise, and demanded to be able to cross examine people who had submitted affidavits against them.
Chairman Gaetano Putignano ran the meeting in person, which was held in the downstairs theater at the Town Hall. The town’s attorney, Josh Stern, attended remotely, and gave Putignano advice during the long session.
Putignano had his hands full, as Lindsay Van Schoick repeatedly ignored his directions, and raised objections to both the process of the health order hearing and what was being said.
Tempers flared at times, as neighbors described living with a difficult situation with the run-down, littered property.
“I’m entitled to defend myself,” Van Schoick said.
The Van Schoicks are not living at the house, and currently live in Claremont, N.H. Wise said the house did not have water or sewer service because bills had not been paid.
Matt Tomberg, who lives next door in a house once owned by his grandfather and now owned by his parents, described a difficult situation. At one point, he put out rat poison, which was ingested by his own dog.
Lindsay Van Schoick then accused him of throwing a dead rat onto his driveway. Van Schoick said he had only found one other dead rat on his property, which was under a tire. Van Schoick said he had put out rat poison, but maintained it was safe for children and pets.
The Tombergs and Van Schoicks are also in the midst of a boundary dispute, with Van Schoick saying he was suing his neighbors for “adverse possession” since the Tomberg boundary line extended halfway through his driveway and had for years. Van Schoick said he had offered the Tombergs a “generous” amount to own their side of the driveway, but was turned down.
“That’s a lie,” said Lou Tomberg.
Van Schoick also challenged the accuracy of Wise’s photographs and his statements, saying he wanted proof that the house, which the Van Schoicks bought in 2017 in a bank foreclosure, had “deteriorated” under his ownership. The house was already deteriorated, Van Schoick said, and he has only worked to fix things.
Wise explained after the hearing that the town had decided to “start from scratch” with Tuesday night’s hearing, rather than hear the appeal from the Van Schoicks of an earlier hearing, which was held in October.
Wise said the new hearing was a result of the problems the town encountered by serving the Van Schoicks legally with the notice of the health order. The town ended up having to have the Van Schoicks re-served by the Windham County Sheriff’s Department. In addition to the health order, the town has found the property to be in violation of the town’s nuisance ordinance, which targets rundown properties.
At the end of the long hearing, Putignano struck a conciliatory note, noting many people were frustrated. “We’re all human beings here,” he said.
The board agreed to meet on Thursday for a deliberative, closed-door session, to make a decision on the proposed health order.