Pittsfield Council Tackles 'Health Hazard' Properties
|The council would like to see the building boarded up as a health hazard.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday tackled petitions on two properties that Councilor at Large Councilor Karen Kalinowsky sees as a health hazard: an abandoned office building on Merrill Road and a "junkyard" of cars on Shaker Lane.
The building at 444 Merrill Road, owned by Peter Petricca of Dallas as Four Forty Four Merrill Road LLC, has been vacant for more than a decade and is in tax title. Aside from the broken windows and graffiti on the exterior, Kalinowsky said there are human feces and garbage inside and she wants the city to secure it.
Director of Public Health Andy Cambi said the Health Department does not board up commercial properties. After assessing the property and finding additional costs, he reported the city has filed a petition in housing court to have the building secured to arson code for the long term.
"He has boarded up the property in previous years, but this time, it's definitely getting worse with the windows on the side being broken into," he said, explaining that it was originally the doors being broken into and the court action requests it to be brought to arson code, making it less likely to be broken into.
Officials say the building's liability is on the owner and they are taking it to court so that the cost the board it up is the owner's responsibility. The ownership is incorporated under an LLC.
Finance Director Matthew Kerwood said the city can file foreclosure in land court but that process takes years and if it were to be auctioned off, it would not be desirable because of limitations associated with it such as wetlands.
Cambi is looking into grants to bring the building to arson code if the owners do not comply with the order.
Councilor at Large Earl Persip III suggested the city "bite the bullet" and pay the $12,000 to $15,000 it will take to board up the property while the court order is in process rather than incurring the costs of a first responder's medical leave if they were injured on site.
"It's been 10 years. He's not going to board it up," Persip said. "It's an LLC for a reason. It's abandoned for a reason."
The councilors agreed to send the petition to Mayor Linda Tyer and ask that she find the funds to board up the property.
"This is an illegal junkyard, is not a bunch of antique cars unless you call all old cars antiques," she said during open microphone. "We have been working with the city to try to get this resolved but it's gotten worse. In the last, it's almost six months, there has also been a pile of tires that's going to be between 50 and 100."
She added that junkyards contain hazardous materials such as lead batteries, mercury, PCBs, asbestos, and other heavy metals that pose a risk to human health in the neighborhood.
City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta explained that the city's ability to handle the situation is limited to fines that begin at $50 and go up to $300 for having an abandoned, junked, dilapidated, non-operating motor vehicle on private property for more than 10 days.
He believes that the vehicles were transported to the Shaker Lane property after being ordered to be removed from the site of a fire.
"My understanding is that a landowner has been fined," Pagnotta said. "That may be a question as to whether the fines could be accrued on a more frequent basis, I don't have an answer for that, but there is a fine process for it."
The city also has an ordinance that prohibits "junkyards" and could take the property to court for violation.
Because of contradictory language within the governing ordinance, councilors motioned to send the petition to the Ordinances and Rules committee to see if it could be cleared up.
Persip said that these are the things that frustrate residents.
"That it takes the city so long to get something so obvious done and I wish you came to us a little sooner so we could change the ordinance to give it more teeth but I think we need to just attack this from all angles," he said.
"Because even attacking it from that angle, changing the ordinance, it's going to take another few months. These are just going to sit there and who knows what's happening if they're contaminating the ground or what's happening out there."
Tags: blight, public safety,