Councilor Robert Moulton Jr. had brought the issue to council after being informed that bricks had fallen from the 500-foot long exterior wall along Union Street.
He was satisfied with a report provided at Tuesday night's meeting by the building department, saying it had answered two of his questions — was the structure sound and had it been recently inspected.
However, there was still a question of whether it was insured, Moulton said, and the "fourth question, is the city anyway liable if something does happen and if the party does not have insurance."
"I go by it every other day to make sure it's still standing and it is," he said. "But the sidewalks are not blocked off. We know it's an unstable structure, they're shoring it up the best they can. But I still think it's a public safety issue."
Councilor Jason LaForest said he was "not convinced that this two-paragraph report with a bunch of oversized pictures really speaks to the structural integrity of building."
The mill was built in 1906 as part of the sprawling textile empire of Arnold Print Works and then purchased by the Hoosac Cotton Co. in 1911. It was later occuped by Hunter Outdoor Products and was a mushroom factory, Delftree. It was purchased by Ariel Sutain, as Wave Realty LLC, 2007 and renamed the NoAMA mill.
Four years later, the distinctive sawtooth roof of the mammoth mill collapsed under the weight of heavy snow and the interior was disassembled over several years. That left a large section of the exterior as a buttressed wall and the sidewalk along it had at one point been blocked off.
"I still think our due diligence we should at least block that sidewalk and have people walk on the other side," Moulton said.
Councilor Keith Bona said Sutain had called him that day and told him he had a letter from the city two years ago requesting the sidewalk be opened.
"The liability issue could be interesting because he actually preferred [the fencing] to still be there and the city did require them to be removed," Bona said.
In answer to a question from Councilor Wayne Wilkinson on the owner having insurance, Mayor Thomas Bernard said he believed so but would confirm.
Bona noted there's nothing to force a property owner to insure their building.
"I guess the question is, if we're going to require liability on buildings, it's either an ordinance that they all have liability," he said.
LaForest was more annoyed that the report was not available until right before the meeting, giving councilors no time to peruse it, even though the engineering report was dated Feb. 11.
"I think it's disrespectful when we request information from the city and we get it right before the start of the meeting," he said. "And we're expected to make a decision that Councilor Moulton is right could affect the safety of the citizens of the city."
He read into the record the conclusion of MPH Engineering to show why he was "riled up." The paragraph reads that the owner will continue to regularly visually monitor the condition of the wall and make any repairs as outlined on a schematic drawing included; the firm would make monthly inspections.
"The structural stability of this wall, building has not been determined and we are right to continue to ask for assurance from the administration and a qualified engineer that that wall is not going to fall into Union Street," LaForest said.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer, in turn, read the accompanying memo from Building Inspector William Meranti in which he stated he conducted a safety inspection of the property along with the property owner and the engineer on Jan. 9.
"During the visit we used equipment to inspect the top of the wall in the damaged area and I requested a plan of action from the engineer to insure sure that this wall would remain safe. A preliminary copy of the engineer's report, which summarizes the building condition in the short term and short term maintenance plan, which the owner is working to implement is attached to this memo," she read.
Councilor Marie T. Harpin suggested the matter be sent to the Public Safety Committee for further information. Blackmer who initially motioned to file the communication asked what action or result did Moulton expect other than more data.
Moulton said his main goal was to see the sidewalk blocked off and perhaps an answer to this fifth question — what was the long-term plan for the mill.
The mayor said the city had requested the barriers be removed because they had been up for two years and were intruding on the road.
"The building owner was using the barriers as an excuse to not act on the very issues that you're concerned about," Bernard said. "So all putting the barrier backup does is give this property owner permission to continue delaying work that they have not done."
The council referred the matter to Public Safety with a date to return the second meeting in March; Bona asked that Sutain be apprised of the date because he may wish to attend.
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