Owner gets 2 weeks to fix safety issues

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BELLOWS FALLS — The owner of the former Chemco building in Bellows Falls has been given 14 days to either board up or otherwise make the large concrete building inaccessible to the public.

The Bellows Falls Village Trustees approved an "order to remediate" Tuesday night that will be sent to the owner of the former paper mill, Stephen McAllister.

McAllister, a native of the region who lives in the Baltimore area, at one time wanted to convert the old paper mill into a luxury eco-hotel. Most recently, Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark wanted to turn the building into a federally-funded detention center, but it ran into overwhelming opposition.

Under the order, McAllister must either board up the openings into the building or surround it with a fence, according to Bellows Falls Village President Deborah Wright. He has 10 days to appeal the order. The building sits at 203 Paper Mill Road, close to the confluence of the Connecticut and Saxtons rivers.

The formal order came about a month after the board formally declared the building was a hazard and needed immediate attention. The building is not considered dilapidated, but dangerous because it is a public nuisance.

An inspection by Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis in May determined the building was dangerous and unsafe because of an open elevator shaft and holes in the floor.

Wright said the building, which sits on the banks of the Connecticut River, is also delinquent for its 2017-2018 taxes, and she noted that new tax bills just went out. She said McAllister was currently in arrears by $2.300.

Wright said that the trustees' order would be posted on the building, which warns people to stay out of the building, which the village considers unsafe.

She said the building was for sale, with an asking price of $300,000.

The building, which was built in 1913, is windowless and a target of vandals and graffiti artists. About 50 years ago, it housed a paper mill, and it later was home to the Thomas Turner Furniture Co., which went bankrupt.

Wright said the village had tried to talk to McAllister, who grew up in Rockingham, but had been unable to reach him, and the village's only contact is through an attorney. At one point, McAllister was an official with Greenpeace, the environmental organization.

If McAllister doesn't comply with the order within 14 days, the village can take steps to make sure the building is safe and not a hazard to the general public.

In addition to the Chemco building, the trustees had a discussion with Christopher Glennon, the owner of the former YMCA building at 66 Atkinson Street. The trustees had received a letter of complaint from the Rockingham School Board, saying slate from the building's roof had fallen onto a sidewalk near Central Elementary School.

According to the letter signed by Rick Holloway, the sidewalk on the south end of the building has been closed and barricaded because of safety concerns because of the condition of the building.

Holloway's letter, dated June 18, made no mention of Glennon and said the building had been "abandoned" by the YMCA.

Glennon, who bought the former Fall Mountain Grange hall building last September, said he is busy renovating the former Methodist Church. He said he had not received any notice from either the school nor the village trustees, and instead had heard about Tuesday night's meeting and agenda item from a news photographer.

Glennon said he was working with contractors to decide how to secure the building's roof, which seemed to generate the most concern.

Bellows Falls Village Trustee James McAuliffe had sharp criticism for Glennon, saying the building was an eyesore as well as a safety issue.

"I think some action is needed," said McAuliffe, but there was no motion from fellow board members to take action against Glennon.

Glennon promised to return to the board with a timetable in the near future for the work he planned on the building.

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

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