Bellows Falls gets tough on derelict buildings

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BELLOWS FALLS — Saying they are tired of being ignored, the Bellows Falls Village Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night to start levying daily fines of $100 and $500 on the owners of two dilapidated buildings that have pending unsafe building orders against them.

The village trustees agreed to the higher fine of $500 a day, which is allowed under the village's current public nuisance ordinance, on Stephen McAllister of Baltimore, Md., the owner of the Chemco building at 203 Paper Mill Road, since it is a commercial property.

The $100 daily fine was levied against Christopher Glennon, the owner of the former YMCA building at 66 Atkinson Street.

"I think the board is being ignored," said Village President Deborah Wright. "It just goes on and on. We should be fining them."

The board had held off on fining Glennon because he says he has no funds to pay for the repairs; the building is slated to go to tax sale later this year.

The board also directed Bellows Falls Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis to visit the Atkinson Street building first thing the next day to make sure the building was not open to the public, which would be a violation of an earlier board order.

Several board members said that Glennon, a retired antiques dealer, had opened the building to the public on Tuesday, with what appeared to be a yard sale going on.

The building is unsafe, said Village President Deborah Wright.

"The order said no one was to go into the building. Today, the door was wide open," said Trustee James McAuliffe.

Wright said while the village hadn't bothered to levy fines earlier in its effort to get the two owners to do something about their properties, she is tired of the village being ignored, promises made and nothing happening.

McAllister, who is a native of Rockingham but lives in Maryland, hasn't responded to the Bellows Falls board, while Glennon, who bought the former Meeting Waters YMCA building for $1 two years ago, has periodically come to board meetings and promised action.

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He has not kept any of his promises, Wright said.

Those promises include an agreement to put a tarp on the building's roof, and to start making repairs to the frame of the large, historic building, which started its life as a Methodist church.

The building's roof, which lost some slate roofing tiles to a sidewalk bordering the building, has started to sag, and village resident Paul Reis said he is concerned the roof would collapse under a significant snow fall this winter, creating a bigger headache for the village.

One worrying problem at the Chemco building is a recent fire, which McGinnis believes was set by area youth.

The village had ordered McAllister to secure the building, a large masonry structure which lacks any windows or doors. The building has been a paper mill and a furniture factory, among other uses. Most recently, the former Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark proposed turning the building into a federal detention center and prison, as well as a headquarters for the sheriff's department. The proposal was dropped in the face of vehement local opposition.

McAllister several years ago unveiled plans to convert the building, which is on the banks of the Connecticut River, to a green resort, but nothing ever came of those plans.

The village doesn't want to pay for a fence around the building or pay for boarding up the Chemco building.

McGinnis said the fire, which didn't cause much damage, was made up of wooden pallets and a big wooden door, both of which were brought into the building.

McGinnis and Bellows Falls Police Chief Ronald Lake said the building's floors were not safe, and that was the major threat to firefighters.

Lake said area youth had built a skateboard park in the bottom of the building.

Both fines were to be levied starting Wednesday.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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