Hetty Green Motel poses quandary

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BELLOWS FALLS — The death of the owner of the derelict Hetty Green Motel has the town in an expensive quandary.

The motel and its owner had been in bankruptcy for at least eight years, and as a result the town of Rockingham wasn't able to collect taxes on the property.

Now owed about $36,000, and the owner, Marie Zdunek dead, the town would have to agree, as a creditor, to become executor of Zdunek's estate if it has any hopes of recouping the tax money or guiding what happens to the old budget motel.

"It's at the entrance to our village," said Susan Hammond, chairwoman of the Rockingham Select Board this week. The old motel is very overgrown with bushes and trees, and one tree has fallen on top of one wing of the motel, crushing the roof.

Raymond Massucco, the Bellows Falls attorney advising the town on delinquent tax issues, said he had been in contact with Zdunek's two survivors - neither of whom is interested in opening an estate or taking over the severely dilapidated motel, which is located on Rockingham Street, across from Cheever Tire.

Massucco said the bankruptcy filing, which was made eight or nine years ago, effectively stopped the payment of taxes, even while the town's tax claims had priority status.

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With the death of Zdunek, and no willing heirs, the property can sit and rot to the ground for the foreseeable future, Massucco said.

That didn't sit well with members of the Select Board, even if it meant the town spent $10,000 on legal bills to handle Zdunek's estate and handle any other creditors. Massucco said his research showed the bankruptcy case had been extended a few times.

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Zdunek was in her 80s when she died earlier this year. The motel was labeled "absolutely disgusting and should be shut down" according to a review on TripAdvisor in 2008. "Disgusting place, avoid at all costs," said another review.

Camilla Roberts, chairwoman of the Rockingham Listers, said there were portions of the motel that were livable - but others that were not.

She said that Zdunek's apartment, in the center of the motel, was "reasonable," but could use some work. She said Zdunek's daughter had recently lived in an apartment next to her mother's apartment.

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But Select Board member Gaetano Putignano said a tree had crashed through the roof of the northern section of the motel, which was named after the famous Bellows Falls eccentric financier Hetty Green, the so-called "Witch of Wall Street" who was once one of the richest woman in the United States.

Letting the building rot into the ground didn't sit well with the board members. But the town is gun shy, Hammond said, because the town has found itself with expensive demolition bills for properties that became the town's responsibility through fire or tax sale.

The town has spent $90,000 on one such property, according to Rockingham Zoning Administrator Chuck Wise.

The board agreed to have Town Manager Wendy Harrison do some research into the property, such as the size of the lot and whether it could support residential development, before deciding to commit to establishing an estate to resolve the impasse.

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


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