North Adams Homeowner Frustrated by Blighted Structure
Karen Ferrara says she's put up with the abandoned house at 45 Edgewood for years. The dilapidated building was on the demolition list for this fiscal year but then delayed to give a local developer time to clear the title.
"Since then, the back foundation of the house has caved in, the roof has more damage and the shingles are continuously flying off onto my property and has done damage to my vehicle, more pieces are falling off the side of the house, it is loaded with rodents even worse in the summertime, I have been in contact with the mayor, council, Health Department, building inspector numerous times."
Ferrara afterward said it wasn't fair she couldn't park her car in her own driveway because of the potential for damage, which had already cost her $400. She was not sanguine about the title being cleared by June.
The city began the process of taking of the property after a lien was placed in 2010 for back taxes. The Historical Commission approved the demolition of the house in 2014 and the City Council declared it a public nuisance in May 2017 and approved $25,000 to demolish it a month later. Laforest said he found in his research that an important step was missed in the process — a vote to demolish the building.
In June 2018, the lien was reassigned to Benjamin Svenson's Centerville Sticks LLC, which submitted the winning bid of $22,730.08 that covered back taxes of nearly $13,000, accrued interest and premiums. That made Centerville the plaintiff in Land Court in taking the property. Earlier this year, Mayor Thomas Bernard indicated he would give Svenson more time to take possession.
Svenson, one of the principals in the Tourists resort development, has been buying up properties in the city, particularly along Massachusetts Avenue and Edgewood Avenue including 5-7 Edgewood, 33 Edgewood and 37-39 Edgewood, a former multi-family that abuts 45 Edgewood.
Councilor Jason Laforest and Marie T. Harpin had brought the matter forward at Ferrara's request. In their communique, the councilors say the building has "a long history as a safety issue" and request it be "addressed promptly" by the administration or referred to committee.
On introduction of the paper, Laforest asked for postponement to the meeting of June 11, which was voted unanimously by the council.
"There is a very lengthy court proceeding or a series of court proceedings relative to this property on Edgewood Avenue," he explained. "That is due to wrap up the first of April and I'm confident that will happen."
Laforest said he and Harpin had spoken to Svenson, "he assures us as soon as that paperwork is complete ... they will begin a significant investment in refurbishing this building, making it livable and hopefully alleviating all the concerns addressed by Ms. Ferrara and her neighbors."
But the drama, he said, has gone on too long and he would be demanding it be torn down if it wasn't for Svenson's track record in development.
"It is in absolutely horrible repair and it's been in horrible repair for a long time," Laforest said. "Now there are serious structural concerns."
Laforest and Harpin noted in their letter that the center section in the back of the house had collapse in February and that the building inspector was seeking an opinion from a local engineering firm.
But at this point, Laforest said, with the long legal process coming to an end, it was only a few more weeks to wrap it up.
Councilor Rebbecca Cohen said she, too, had been hearing about the property for several years and would like to hear from the building and health departments on how it has gotten to this point.
"It's time we give some relief to the owners around the property," she said. "Rats running around the property is not only disgusting it's a health concern."
Council President Keith Bona complimented Ferrara's persistence in pursuing the issue. There are other blighted buildings in the city but often neighbors don't push to the city to deal with them.
"While she has not got what she wants, there is something about being the squeaky wheel and it has kept it in front of us," he said. "I applaud your persistence because that's how some things get down."
In other business, the council approved applications from Keith Minori and David Bushey Jr., both of North Adams, to drive for RJ's Taxi but postponed consideration for Carmen M. Hyatt of North Adams to the next meeting because her application was missing information.
Councilors also again questioned the process of bringing the taxi licenses to the council if they already have to be approved by the police chief. Laforest noted two had had a license suspension. Bona said it was a question for the city solicitor.
• Bona interrupted Cohen during councilor's concerns when she again stated her objection to the change in council rules that limited citizen participation to before and after the meeting. They had previously been allowed to speak on items as they were brought up.
"I do not feel this is productive," Cohen said. "Everybody who takes time to come to these meetings needs to be heard."
The council president said her concerns didn't need to be repeated again and began talking over, causing Laforest to call a point of order. "I believe the councilor has a right to speak," he said.
• The council referred to committee a rewrite of ordinances related to fire and police departments and based on changes made to re-institute the positions of fire chief and police chief. It also passed a second reading of compensation changes for police and non-union employees, with Bona and Councilor Wayne Wilkinson abstaining because they have relatives working in public safety.
Tags: blight, demolition, Land Court,
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